We haven’t seen the female cheetah and her two youngsters in quite a while. Last reports were that they were seen on some clearings alongside the Kruger Park’s western boundary. That was a couple of weeks ago. Does this mean that they have left our property permanently? Although we have been through extended periods during which the three cats have not been seen before, this is the first time in which such a period has seen them leaving the Sabi Sand entirely.
During the first two years I was at Londolozi, I only saw two cheetahs. Both were vagrant males that wandered into the reserve from the Kruger Park, killed and ate an impala, and then disappeared, presumably back the way they had come. Then in May of 2012 a lone male arrived on the scene. Found by ranger Helen Young and tracker Enoch Mkansi in the South East of the reserve, we assumed he would be like the rest of his species and leave the area after a day or two, but thankfully he decided to stick around, and we have been viewing him ever since.
One of the main reasons that cheetahs are not all that common in the Sabi Sand is the density of other large predators, namely lions, leopards and hyenas. All of these outcompete cheetahs, who are forced to yield their kills rather than attempting to defend them and risking potential injury. Cheetahs will even be killed outright by the other big cats.
It has been mentioned before on the blog that the South western grasslands of Londolozi support a slightly lower predator density than the rest of the reserve, and this is where the male cheetah ended up. Obviously realising that the going was slightly easier in this region, he decided to stay.
Roughly a year later and we began hearing reports of a female cheetah with four cubs to our North East that had made their way into the Sabi Sand from the Kruger Park. To our delight they were found one evening on Sasekile Ingwe clearing, just north of camp on the opposite side of the river. Only two cubs were with the mother, so we can only assume that the other two had been killed somewhere in the wilderness.
Slowly but surely after that first sighting the three cats made their way gradually south, eventually ending up in the same area as the male. There they stayed for the next 9 months as the cubs grew in size and experience. As a ranging and tracking team we have spent many hours with these three beautiful animals, being privileged to watch the development of the young cheetahs in particular, witnessing their first hunting attempts – some successful and some not. We watched as their mother survived a nasty injury to her back leg, overcame it and made a full recovery.
And now it seems they have left us.
They were hanging around on Tu-Tones Crest for a day or two before crossing east of our boundary. This was no real cause for concern as they have headed that way before but have always returned within a day or two.
This time, however, they crossed over from Sunset Bend Clearing – this was over 3 weeks ago – and have not been seen since. Reports from the east were that they were all the way across near the Kruger boundary, so it is quite possible they have simply continued heading east.
Will they return? Maybe. Female cheetahs are not as territorial as males, tending to stick to home ranges rather (territories are actively defended, home ranges are not), so the three may wander back eventually.
Some kind of pressure obviously pushed the female and her cubs onto Londolozi in the first place. If we’re lucky, similar pressure will push them back west, and we can enjoy the viewing of this family of the fastest mammal on earth, once more.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell