Over the last few weeks, we have been very fortunate to see a mother cheetah and her two sub-adult cubs on a number of occasions. The trio of speedsters have been spending most of their time in the central parts of Londolozi, providing guests and rangers with plenty of excitement.
By sheer luck I have managed to find myself in the right places at the right times in order to witness some of the many trials and tribulations of this small family of cheetahs. Living fairly nomadic lifestyles in large home ranges makes it particularly special to have three of these magnificent animals on the Londolozi premises. Herewith, a recap of some of these cheetahs’ most notable escapades from the last few weeks.
The mother and two young cheetahs are not new to Londolozi and we have been seeing them on-and-off for the last year. Cheetahs move around in large home ranges due to the fact that they are ranked relatively low on the local predator hierarchy. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and African wild dogs all outrank cheetahs and as a result the cheetahs will avoid spending too long on one particular area in an effort to avoid too much harassment from the higher ranking predators. So when the three cheetahs popped up in the open grasslands in Londolozi’s western section, we wondered how long they would stick around.
Escapade #1: The Leopard Chase
One afternoon, ranger Guy Brunskill had discovered the three cheetahs on top of a termite mound basking in the late afternoon sun. We sat and watched them quietly when suddenly we heard over the radio that the Senegal Bush male was approaching the termite mound on which the cheetah sat, blissfully unaware. The big male leopard was still far away but he was closing in fast and the seconds passed by agonisingly slowly. As the leopard drew nearer, we were unsure about whether the leopard knew that the cheetahs were there, and vice versa.
The answer was revealed seconds later when the Senegal Bush male shot towards the cheetahs and the trio exploded off the mound in a flurry of black and gold.
Although leopards are fast, cheetahs are faster and thankfully the cheetahs managed to escape unharmed. The Senegal Bush male made a few more lunges for the cheetahs but each time he did, the wily cheetahs managed to avoid him. After a few minutes the male leopard lost interest and the cheetahs moved off hurriedly. The encounter will certainly serve as a good lesson to the two young cheetahs to constantly be on the alert for danger because, as a cheetah, trouble is always lurking just around the corner.
Escapade #2: Close Call with a Crocodile
It was cloudy morning when we set out on game drive. We had barely made it out of camp when ranger Sean Zeederberg announced that the three cheetahs were lying on the airstrip. We joined Sean with the trio as they made their way down towards a nearby waterhole to drink. A they approached the waterhole they slowed right down. With the memory of the encounter with the Senegal Bush male freshly imprinted in their minds they cautiously scanned the banks for any sign of danger. Satisfied that there was nothing to fear they moved closer to the water.
The two young brothers paced up and down along side the water, trying to find the best place to drink. Finally, after much deliberation, they selected a suitable spot and began to lap up the cool water. The mother was next to approach. Instead of sidling up next to her two cubs, the mother chose an odd spot where the water was covered by a layer of green duckweed. She had barely stooped down towards the water when green water erupted and an enormous crocodile lunged out of the water towards the female. Miraculously the mother’s instincts and agility saved her and she seemingly levitated away from the crocodile and landed in the water.
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Before the crocodile even knew what was happening the mother cheetah was back on dry land and making a break for higher ground. We raced around and found the cheetahs again on the airstrip. The mother looked cold and wet and despite the numerous impala nearby she displayed no interest in hunting. The family moved off the airstrip minutes later and we all breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the cheetahs had cheated death once again.
Escapade #3: A Hunting Masterclass
A few days later rangers Chris Taylor, Kyle Gordon and I found ourselves with the same trio of cheetahs. This time they were on the move and it looked as though they were keen to hunt. As the sun slipped towards the horizon the cheetahs spotted a herd of impala. We sat and watched them as they stalked. The mother went off towards the thicket line while the two brothers covered the other flank. The trap was set and the hungry cheetahs waited patiently for the perfect moment to spring into action. All of a sudden they sprung the trap and impalas went hurtling off in all directions. We raced through the clearing and came around the corner to find the mother clutching a young impala in her jaws.
The two brothers rejoined their mother shortly afterwards and the family fed quietly together. Fortune smiled on them that evening and no other predators appeared to relieve them of their kill. Twilight was upon us so we left the mother and her two cubs to finish off their meal and reflected on a hunting masterclass that had just unfolded in front of us. This hunt will serve as a valuable lesson in impala hunting that the two brothers will certainly need when they become independent.
Escapade #4: A Narrow Escape From Lions
This particular morning had stared well for us and we were able to find an Ntsevu lioness with her five cubs. As we were leaving the lioness we heard a herd of impala alarm calling nearby. As we moved closer to investigate we saw the mother cheetah sprinting after an impala in the clearing below us. We raced through the grass to catch up. The next thing we saw was the two cheetah siblings feeding side by side on an impala in the thicket. We drove around to find a way through the dense stand of Tamboti trees and as we rounded the corner we were shocked to see a big Birmingham male marching through the trees in front of us.
Before we had established what was going on, the lioness who we were with earlier joined the scene and the two cheetahs fled into the thicket. We sat as the male lion walked towards the kill when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw the mother cheetah sitting dead still – only twenty meters from the lion. The male was focused on the fresh kill and the female cheetah took the opportunity to escape. We caught up to the male and watch him feed on the cheetah’s kill. We couldn’t believe how close the cheetah was to being seen by the lion and fortunately the male lion was distracted by the impala kill. Later in the morning the two cheetah cubs were found unharmed and the next day the cheetah family was seen reunited. Over a cup of coffee we recounted what we had seen and again we could not believe how narrowly the cheetahs escaped.
It seemed as though the cheetahs were making a habit out of getting into and out of sticky situations but thankfully again they managed to come out unscathed.
There are so many challenges that face these amazing animals on a daily basis.
Be it trying to catch the ever alert impalas or trying stay away from the many other dangerous predators, cheetahs have their work cut out form them just trying to stay alive in this harsh environment. Add to the mix the task of raising two cubs, one really has to appreciate the mother cheetah’s ability to have got this far. It seems as though this female cheetah has got what it takes to raise her litter to adulthood so stay tuned to see what further escapades await this trio.