Recently we have had some spectacular cheetah viewing, with seven different individuals being seen in areas all over the reserve. The most exciting was the discovery of a female cheetah with two young cubs that we have seen a few times now. The reason this is such exciting news is because we do not see cheetah – let alone cheetah cubs – in this area nearly as regularly as we see other predators.
If we were to rank the larger predators into a hierarchy, cheetahs would be right at the bottom of the list purely because they are not strong enough to compete with the others. They certainly are the fastest but that advantage will only really help them in open areas in order to catch prey or run away from threats. Lions are certainly the apex predator in the region followed closely by hyenas, leopards, wild dogs and then cheetah. It’s important to know that these predators do not actively prey on one another but they will try and take each other out because ultimately they are all reliant on a similar food source and therefore it would make sense to try and eliminate any competition for that food.
Numbers also come into the equation because even though lions are regarded as being at the top of the hierarchy because of their size and strength, a single lioness on her own would be no match for a clan of hyenas. Similarly, a big male leopard might be able to challenge a single wild dog but when the rest of the pack get there he would probably look for the safety of the nearest tree. Unfortunately, cheetah are always on the run as it is their best means of defence and they do not want to risk any chance of injury or death from conflict with other predators unless it’s an encounter with another cheetah.
We are incredibly lucky at Londolozi to view multiple prides of lions that move around the whole reserve and the dynamics between the prides is a fascinating story in itself. The leopards of Londolozi have also been very well documented over the years and at present we have records of over 30 different nomadic and territorial individuals that move across the reserve. Currently, there is also an increased presence of Wild Dogs with at least two packs denning in the greater area. With all of these predators making kills frequently in order to sustain their numbers, hyenas have the opportunity to thrive as they operate as nature’s clean-up crew. In other words, predator numbers are high in this region and it’s hard for cheetah to compete with them and that’s why we count ourselves very fortunate to have had the sightings of them that we have had.
The reason for the increase in cheetah numbers recently is unclear and I am just reporting on what I have observed recently on our reserve. It could be because of the fact that we are in winter and the bush is not as thick. This means that there are more open areas which are favourable to cheetah who will make use of termite mounds and fallen trees to survey the area for prey and threats. Nevertheless, the reality is that it is just part of the ebb and flow of nature and a great reminder of how lucky we are to be a part of a protected wilderness area that spans over 6 million acres which allows for nature and all its mysteries, stories and spectacles to unravel right here in front of us.