I know that over the recent few months, cheetahs have spent some time in the limelight. From a reserve that never used to see cheetahs often, we are now spoilt with the cheetah viewing and a lot of it comes down to one mother in particular and her now sub-adult young male. Cheetahs are magnificent creatures and often do not really feature on the first-timer’s list of animals to see.
With this in mind, it would be a shame to not show our guests a cheetah if one was around. To those that have never heard of a cheetah, it could be described as a diurnal (active during the day) cat built for speed as opposed to strength, sacrificing bulky muscles for an elongated streamlined torso with long limbs. Its small head and lengthy flattened tail are vital in reaching its top speeds. Decorated with black spots help it camouflage into the tawny long grass that dominates the prefered habitat for cheetahs. Upon a closer look at its face, the intensity within its honey-coloured eyes immediately catches one’s attention that then runs down the black tears markings that line either side of the snout. Due to cheetahs being diurnal, the glare in the open grasslands can be intense, these last two adaptations help them to cope.
Of all the big cats, cheetahs are the only ones unable to retract their claws, which sit semi-retracted. Therefore they are able to act effectively as little studs to grab and grip the ground when sprinting after prey, with little muscles tiring.
It goes without saying, being a cheetah in an area so densely populated by other large predators such as the Sabi Sands, is extremely dangerous. A hierarchy of predators has been determined based on which animals would be more dominant over each other. Cheetahs are right down at the bottom of the list. This stretches beyond not only the physical anatomy of each species but also the psychology behind it. Not only are cheetahs designed for speed, but they are also conflict-averse. As the ultimate sprinter, they cannot afford to engage in any unnecessary physical confrontation as the slightest injury could essentially result in the inability to hunt and fend for themselves and result in the tragic loss of life. And mostly solitary, they do not have any other cheetah around to help them obtain their next meal.
Unable to fight off other predators or hoist kills into nearby trees makes life a little more difficult. That being said the Sabi Sands Game Reserve has arguably the highest density of leopards and a very healthy population of Lions, thus cheetahs are somewhat out-competed here.
This is why it is so impressive to see this Mother Cheetah and her young male cub doing so well so far. To have raised this cub for over a year in this area demonstrates this Mother’s success. Usually, cheetah cubs will leave their mothers around 18 months but before then this young male needs to learn as much of his mother’s skills before leaving her. When we have seen these cheetahs, I noticed the young male always watching, learning, absorbing, and imitating his mother. Rightfully so, the Mother Cheetah is always vigilant and cautious. She is the last line of defence against any predator and the provider of every meal for him so when she searches the landscape it is more than just glancing around.
Life is hard enough as an adult cheetah, let alone while raising any cubs, hence motherhood being a real challenge. The inability to rival predators often results in them being forced to surrender their meals to lions, hyenas, wild dogs, leopards and even vultures. With two mouths to feed this Mother Cheetah needs to plan her hunts perfectly to reduce the risk of a failed attempt and vital energy wasted or the kill being stolen before they are able to feed on it, if she hopes to give this cub a chance of survival and the skill, he needs to hunt for himself one day.
Mother Cheetahs are very dedicated, they must be both the protector and the provider. This mother Cheetah is no exception to this as she is focused almost entirely on the well-being of her sub-adult male, an inspiration for me.
Once he can defend himself, he will be pushed away by his mother and left to chase down his own prey. This is when he will have the confidence of being the fastest land mammal. The future of this Young Male Cheetah is still unknown but what I do know is that his mother is teaching him all the necessary skills he needs to thrive.