Growing up we all have a favourite animal. In the same way, we have a favourite team that we support. You are not often sure why your younger self chose that team or that animal but your support is always unwavering. That animal, for me, has always been a cheetah. So what’s better than seeing a cheetah? Seeing two. Or even better, a cheetah with cubs.
I still remember the first time I had seen cheetah cubs as a young boy visiting the Kruger National Park and it was only many years later that I had the luck of seeing one of these incredible animals with its adorable little cubs. This day was only a few months ago.
We had heavily forecasted rain for the morning and so we decided to leave camp slightly later than normal and decided to take a chance and look for a cheetah in the open savanna areas of the southwestern parts of Londolozi. The open grasslands allow one to see far into the distance but the coat of a cheetah is superbly camouflaged and if they happen to be lying down in the long grass it can make it near impossible to spot them at a distance. Luck was on our side as we turned a corner and tracker Tshepo Dzemba shouted, “Stop!”
The excitement in his voice, which I am now very well acquainted with, made me realise it was a predator and I naturally assumed that it was a leopard as cheetah are easily our rarest sighting. I hadn’t yet seen it but as he stumbled his way through his excitement he eventually said, “cheetah, cheetah!” She was literally 5 metres off the road.
As I turned the vehicle around he said something that I will never forget, “she has a kill and two cubs!”
At this point, I could barely contain the excitement as my adrenaline levels surged. This was the holy grail in terms of sightings for a loyal cheetah fan. We spent the next few hours with her as she finished her kill and moved off with cubs full-bellied and playfully chasing each other. This was the first time we had seen her on our property with her two young cubs and it would be another few weeks before we had the opportunity to see them again.
Cheetahs are at the bottom of the predator hierarchy and this means that there are many dangers that lurk around each corner for her and her young cubs. Anything from a lion to a python could pose a serious threat to the livelihood of the small cats. Mother cheetahs, like other cats, will defend their cubs to their utmost, often having to face off to a much larger predator. One of the main defensive strategies employed is to distract the larger predator and lead them away while their cubs make a run for cover. This, however, leads to the cubs being separated from their mother only to the hope that through contact calling the mother will be able to find the cubs again.
It was no more than a few weeks ago that this cheetah popped up again, however, with only one cub. It’s difficult to not get attached to the animals that we share incredible moments with while we watch them go about their daily tribulations, but the sadness of seeing a mother with one cub less is soon overshadowed by the thrill of spending new time with her and her last remaining cub.
We have been fortunate enough to see her and her cub on a more regular basis over the past few weeks as she has been moving deeper into the central parts of Londolozi. Her cub, now about seven months old is slowly losing the longer back fur that cheetah cubs have to camouflage themselves in the grasslands that they tend to favour. With only about 5% of cheetah cubs making it to adulthood this mother cheetah certainly has her work cut out for her. Fingers crossed she is able to navigate the difficult waters of a predator-rich environment and raise her cub to independence and provide us and our guests with more amazing sightings of them.