Tracker Ray Mabelane was taking some of the staff children on a game drive around lunch time when vultures descending at a waterhole close to the airstrip caught his eye.
Taking the kids a little closer to investigate, he came upon the female cheetah and her cubs that had brought down an impala late in the morning, and were feeding on it as the vultures descended. Their meal was short-lived, as a number of spotted hyenas, also attracted by the vultures, suddenly rushed in and robbed the cats.
The cheetahs were clearly not too full, as within ten minutes the mother had killed another impala within 300m of the first, which thankfully for her was not robbed by hyenas.
There was, however, an enormous amount of pressure being placed on the three cheetahs by more vultures that had either come across from the first kill or were descending for the first time.
Ray came back to camp with the kids and told us what he had seen, and as we were heading out on drive early with our guests decided to go straight there. More than 50 vultures – mainly White-backed but a few Hoodeds as well- were surrounding the cheetahs, who were still feeding frantically, determined to make the most of this meal. Every now and again one of the cheetahs would rush at the vultures, scattering them, but as soon as that cheetah walked back to the kill, the vultures would press even closer.
The mother cheetah finally decided she was full, and moved off a little bit to groom one of the cubs, leaving the second cub still feeding. The cub, sensing he was about to lose the battle to the vultures, made one last charge at them before cracking under the pressure and moving off, leaving the kill open for the vultures to rush in and finish off.
Cheetahs, being at the bottom of the predator hierarchy, are often forced off kills. They know when their luck might be about to run out, and so many vultures acts as an open invitation to any other predator in the area (as already evidenced by the hyenas stealing the earlier kill), so if they have had enough to eat, cheetahs will invariably leave the remains of the kill to the birds.
The three big cats moved back towards the Londolozi airstrip, where the tarmac was still warm on this cloudy day, and after lying in the open for awhile – the better to see advancing threats – the family moved further away from the scene of the kill before settling down for the evening with full bellies.
We haven’t seen the three cheetahs for a couple of weeks now, and last reports indicated that they had been heading east back towards the Kruger National Park from where it is believed they originated. The female and cubs from 2013 returned to Kruger for a couple of months before coming back to Londolozi again, so of course we are hoping that this female follows in the footsteps of her predecessor!