After last week’s drama with the injury to the female cheetah, we made sure to keep close tabs on her over the following few days to monitor her condition.
Having fed on a young impala the day after the injury she was not that hungry, and spent her time moving around the Warren’s/Vomba crest areas with her two young cubs. Although limping ever-so-slightly, she seemed relatively unfazed by the wound, and a veterinarian guest staying at Londolozi at the time said that the injury looked set to make a full recovery as no real muscle damage was visible.
Debate at the time moved back and forth; some saying the injury was worse than it looked, others disagreeing, but the bottom line is that a debilitating injury would debilitate the animal, yet the cheetah was walking fine.
Two mornings ago we set out to look for a large male leopard as my guests had not seen one so far on their visit, and soon after leaving camp we came across the tracks of the Camp Pan male. The tracks cut south towards the Tu-tones crest, near where the three cheetahs had been seen the evening before, so we were all on the lookout, and as usual it was Mike Sithole’s eagle-eyes that first picked out the sleek shape of the spotted cat.
At first we only saw the mother, and her cubs were not near her, but some stotting and running impala on the far side of the clearing drew our attention to the area, and we soon made out the youngsters bounding through the grass, practicing hunts of their own.
As the impala settled down and resumed feeding once more, losing sight of the cheetah behind some bushwillow thickets, it was time for serious hunting for the mother. Her cubs held back as the female began the approach to the impala herd through the clearing.
The impala were grazing with their heads down, and the cheetah was still a long way off, far too far to begin the chase.
We were fascinated to watch her on the hunt, as we had been privy to the whole drama of her injury, and the next few minutes would tell us once and for all how bad her injury was and what her chances were.
Like water exploding from a pond as a boulder is dropped into it, the impala scattered in all directions as the cheetah came racing in. Although incredibly hard to track a moving cheetah while it is running at full speed, the open clearing nevertheless allowed us to do so, and believe me when I tell you that there was nothing slow about her run! Injury or no injury, that cheetah hit full speed without blinking, and after a long arching run, she ankle-tapped an adult impala ewe that had split from the herd, and delivered the suffocating throat-clasp.
No distress calls came from the impala, it was over far too quickly. Just a settling cloud of dust as the two cubs came running in to join their mother on the kill.
While the female got her breath back after the chase, the cubs settled down to feed, and before long all three animals were tearing into the impala’s rump.
After eating a good portion of the kill, the female cheetah dragged it into the shade of a nearby gwarrie bush, out of sight of vultures.
By evening the three animals had moved off, the carcass entirely consumed. With enough meat inside her for a couple of days at least, and definitely able to hunt and catch prey, we can confidently say that the mother cheetah is properly on the mend!
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell