Since April this year we have been so privileged to have the ability to track, follow, photograph and view the female cheetah and her 2 youngsters, now aged around 14 months old. We have watched them grow and learn, stalk, hunt, kill, encounter larger predators, like Hyena, Lion and Leopard, be chased off their kills and survive it all. Life experience is certainly not lacking for these 2 young Cheetah and their Mother, who I can honestly say is an animal on Londolozi I respect the most. We speak of trials and tribulations, the hardships of life out here, the competition and the rise and fall of many animals, and in particular the large predators. We discuss the hierarchy of there society as if we know it, the truth of who fits in where and how they all belong here, each playing a vital role in sustaining this amazing wilderness. However, this majestic big cat is one that is sometime overlooked, one that is put at the bottom of this hierarchy below Lion, Leopard, Hyena and even Wild Dog. In terms of strength, power and brut force, it is definitely lacking but many critical features of this cat have kept it around in this predator rich environment.
As a young Cheetah growing up out here in the Greater Kruger area, the lowveld and the Sabi Sands, life is not easy. So when these 3 animals arrived here, the Londolozi family welcomed them with open arms. Their beauty, speed and determination has been spoken of, written about and photographed by many. We have truly cherished their presence here for the past few months. They had set up a safe zone on Londolozi and a neighbouring reserve where they frequented large open areas, that lack the dominance of Lions and Leopards, and have snuck, almost undetected for many months.
Most have read of their many encounters with Male Leopards, a terrible injury sustained by the Mother and them losing many meals, yet they prosper. Emotionless. “Life goes on,” a famous saying, and I sense it here more than anywhere else I have explored myself. There are no second chances, there is no emotion, and there is certainly no remorse. Only the strong survive and the weak will perish. The way of the bush and the harshness of these lands where many have fallen. These are all life lessons currently being taught, passed down through generations, from Mother to offspring. The way of the wild and how to survive it.
After many months of viewing, the Mother Cheetah and her 2, now sub-adult, youngsters disappeared. They vanished into the nothingness that lies beyond the territory of Londolozi. No alarm bells were ringing and there was no concern over their safety, only that they were gone, off our land and our amazing Cheetah viewing had vanished. But where did they go? And for how long?
After much research, blog reading, messages from friends who work in the area and chatting to guides from around the Sabi Sands, we worked out that they had been on an adventure. They had left Londolozi and have ventured into the depths of the South Eastern parts of the private sector, all the way to Toulon, a farm section, many miles from here. They were all still heathy and successful and I have followed their progress intently.
I remember working on a private reserve prior to my arrival here on Londolozi, and saw a similar pattern emerging with this family. The cubs, at age 10 months, began to finish of the hunt, they learnt how to throttle animals and take them down on their own. How to chase, the patience of the stalk and how to choose the right moment to take off, skills that are still being learnt to this day. But, I also remembered how, at around 12 months of age, the Mothers would often go and explore parts of this reserve they had never ventured before with the cubs. This was exactly what was happening with our family. Their Mother, realising they were coming of age, realised that she needed to do what her Mother would have done for her. Not only teach about the skills of the hunt, but the lands that lie beyond the safety net, they now know here. So they have travelled, they have explored and their Mother has shown them areas that they can be successful in the future when they leave her, she would have also shown them areas that are not safe. Where there are less friends than foe, where hunting is bad and competition is rife.
This may just be something made up in my head, but it certainly gets me thinking. And after all of this they have returned! The Cheetah family are back on Londolozi. As successful as ever. The cubs have grown to almost their Mothers size and they looked ready for the future. But, until then. Until the day that their Mother decides that it is time for them to leave her, we look forward to some more great viewing!
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland