“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” David Attenborough.
As guides we are frequently asked how often we see a predator make a kill. To be honest, the answer is, rarely. Predators tend to fail more times than they succeed and in my opinion, they are arguably the hardest animals working in nature. The fragile balance in nature’s complex web and the element of the unknown result is incredibly exciting to me and draws me to look deeper into the intricate details of nature.
A few mornings ago, it all just came together for me though. It started when following a male cheetah during the early parts of the afternoon. After about 30 minutes he approached a clearing and used a termite mound as a vantage point to scan 360 degrees through the bush. We watched as the sun illuminated his amber eyes, which have the ability to see potential prey a couple hundred meters away. The cheetah raised his ears and we could tell that he had become aware of the sounds of rutting impala nearly 200 meters away. I immediately gave the cheetah more distance; allowing us to get a long distance view of the impala as well as the cheetah. Using binoculars we watched him sink closer to the ground, intently focused on the impala. His head was extended, eyes locked, scapulars protruding and tail straight, making only subtle twitches. His movements were sharp and clinical, his experience and intent was clear. He managed to get 50 meters away from the distracted impala. There was a deathly silence as he stopped and poised himself. Almost without anticipation, a rapid trot exploded into a sprint, leaving a trail of dust from the dry earth. Within seconds we could see the hit had been made, before the animals became blanketed by a massive plume of dust. We immediately drove closer to investigate. I was confident the kill had been made but once the dust began settle, something astonishing appeared.
At first glance the impala looked to be dominating the exchange. There wasn’t much movement and I kept trying to see where the impala’s horns were. My thoughts were interrupted by an explosion of movement.
It all came to a halt and silence filled the air, only to be replaced by the sound of the impala’s heaving, deep breaths. I was still in disbelief and to be honest, concerned about the cheetah. Little did I know, the battle for survival had only just begun…
I was relieved and stunned to see how perfectly the horns were placed around the cheetahs chest. I was also incredibly surprised to see how much energy and strength the cheetah had despite the chase that had just ensued. By this stage it had been nearly 8 minutes of grappling and wrestling and I had begun to think that the impala may actually win.
The tables began to turn and it seemed they were now favouring the cheetah.
Eventually after a long and hard fought battle, the impala succumbed, leaving the cheetah with a well-earned meal. His battle for survival was not over however and had to eat quickly before vultures or other predators became aware of his kill. The balance of life and death is forever at play here and it seems you can never be sure which way it will swing.