I never would have thought a cheetah could eat that much in one sitting! Ranger Sandros Sihlangu and tracker Lucky Shabangu had been tracking the Sparta pride South and West towards the Tugwaan Drainage when the alarm calls of an impala herd alerted them to the presence of a predator. Investigating, they found a male cheetah just settling down to feed on the impala ewe it had caught. We were looking for the cheetah ourselves, and being nearby, it wasn’t more than three minutes before we were enjoying the sighting as well.
The cheetah fed almost continuously for the hour that we remained with it, it’s small stomach and slight frame ballooning enormously in that time as it took in as much meat as possible.
The impala carcass was reduced to its front half and entrails before the heat rose and we left the cheetah to feed in peace.
Two hours later we returned to the scene to see if any other predators had moved in, but all we could see as we approached were a couple of whitebacked vultures circling lazily overhead. Within a matter of minutes, they had been joined by many more, and as we parked near the cheetah (who was still feeding), they began landing, filling up the marula trees all around us. Whitebacked, Hooded, Lappet-faced and even Whiteheaded vultures all joined the party, some hopping on the ground, most of them reluctant to approach the kill just yet.
The pressure on the cheetah mounted.
A nervous animal by nature, he knew that the arrival of so many vultures was a glaring beacon for other predators. Eventually he could stand it no longer, and with an enormously full belly he left the kill and the real show began. Within seconds, 50 or 60 vultures had engulfed the carcass; squabbling, pecking and squawking as they fought for the scraps. It took them mere minutes to reduce it to nothing more than skin and a few bones, consuming probably the same amount of meat as the cheetah had in over three hours!
Written & Photographed by: James Tyrrell