Cheetahs are always a treat to find on Londolozi and recently we were fortunate enough to watch a mother and her sub-adult offspring. These youngsters are nearly fully grown and should become independent in the near future. They have been hanging around and moving throughout the reserve for a few days and have made for some incredibly exciting viewing, as my guests and I were to witness firsthand.
“Stations, we have found the three cheetahs” crackled Chris Taylor‘s voice through the radio.
We knew they’d been in the area that morning and the three of us, Nick Sims being the third, had decided that we’d try and find them that afternoon. Excitement flooded through when I heard this news come through the radio and I turned to my guests to let them know. Their faces split into a pair of matching grins at the prospect of seeing a cheetah.
We were not far and soon we’d see the other two vehicles trailing the cheetah through an open clearing; the mother taking the lead, leaping gracefully onto a broken Marula in order to scan the surrounds. With nothing in sight, she hopped back down and moved on. Her offspring followed suit, mirroring her behaviour, always learning.
All of a sudden her behaviour changed. She sunk down, her head lowered parallel to her body, her tail twitched, her eyes intently locked on a herd of impala still some distance away. Her offspring followed her lead, mimicking her behaviour almost exactly as I imagine they’d been trained to do over the course of the last two years. Immediately the three Land Rovers turned off their engines, except for Nick who was in the impossibly quiet prototype Electric Land Rover at this point.
We waited with bated breath, barely breathing as we watched the youngsters stalk forward as the mother disappeared somewhere to our left. Painfully slowly the pair crept forward, edging through a slight gap in a small thicket. And there they waited, easing themselves into a seated posture, but with heads still cocked low and eyes boring a hole in the impala herd up ahead.
A bark of an impala sent the herd scattering in all directions. The young males shot off like arrows from a string, while three Land Rovers in sluggish tow tried to keep up. The mother leaped into the chaos; she missed her first target and then changed direction. Her heavy tail counter-balanced her through her hairpin turn, and amidst a kaleidoscope of heaving, tawny bodies, we saw her latching onto an impala yearling. The two tumbled out of sight behind a small thicket.
The two young males have been unsuccessful in their respective attempts, leaving them standing in the middle of the clearing. With heads whipping from side to side, they were searching for their mother or perhaps scanning for any straggling impala or any danger which may have been attracted by the ruckus.
Creeping around the edge of the thicket she disappeared behind, we saw her, jaws clamped around the throat of a young impala, success. The mother stood up to have a brief scan around before dragging the carcass out into the open where she will have a line of sight in all directions. Life at the bottom of the predator hierarchy necessitates the need to keep an eye out for any incoming opportunists, most likely lion or hyena in this instance.
The cubs spotted her as she lifted the prey and came skulking in to feed, ensuring they got much in as they could before potentially being chased off by a more dominant predator forcing them to forfeit their catch.
As the sun began to set on the scene we took this opportunity to go and have an evening drink and ride the adrenaline-high of baring witness to one of Africa’s most spectacular predators in full flight.