One fascinating animal, not part of the Big 5, that is so loved on safari is the rare and charismatic Cheetah. At Londolozi, we truly appreciate the presence of these striking predators and there is no surprise why many guests, avid photographers and safari guides find themselves completely awe-struck when given the chance of seeing one on a game drive.
“Cheetah” is a hindu word meaning “spotted one”.
Apart from their beautiful fur coats and striking facial markings, I am particularly fond of their regal stature. Their bodies are built on a design best suited for hunting prey at high speed. Cheetahs are arguably one of the best-looking wild cats found on Earth and considering their scarcity, they are a must-see animal when on safari.
Why are Cheetahs so rare?
Ranger, Robyn Morrison, explains their genetic bottlenecks and why the animal is facing extinction. In today’s blog, I’m going to provide an update on these special creatures that we are able to view, albeit, quite rarely at Londolozi.
In the past 12 months, although cheetah sightings have been few and far between they have still been more frequent than they used to. We have been fortunate to see a number of different individuals in the varied biomes that Londolozi has to offer. We would normally expect the cheetah sightings to be in the southwestern section of the reserve meandering the open savannah. But we have had the odd surprise with wonderful sightings of them along the Sand River close to camp and towards our eastern boundary, searching the rolling crests for any herds of impala.
So of the cheetahs that we see here the majority of the sightings in the last couple of months have been of a few regular cheetahs so I will go through them in a little more detail.
A Mother Cheetah and One Cub
While Ranger, Dan Hirschowitz, provided a heartwarming update last September on the female cheetah and her youngster, aged around 13 months at the time, the duo have not been seen for some time now. The young male will now be well over 20 months old and likely on his own or looking to form a coalition with other males.
Young cheetahs are pushed away by their mother when she is ready to mate again and the young male will move on to a nomadic lifestyle as he tries to survive. If the opportunity presents itself he will look to form a coalition to improve his chances of survival and this is achieved through improved hunting success when teaming up with other males of a similar age.
Female cheetahs and their offspring do not occupy and actively defend a territory, instead, they move around a home range which can extend across a fairly large area. This may explain why we haven’t seen them recently. The mother could have moved further south to seek a mate and the young male has probably drifted afar to form a coalition of his own.
A Young Male Cheetah
Another cheetah that has made up most of the sightings in the eastern section of the reserve this year is a young male who arrived on Londolozi earlier this year. Little is known about him and we suspect he came west from the Kruger National Park. Although it is tough to age a Cheetah, based on his size and behaviour, we estimate he could be around 3 years old. This makes him not eligible to be the young male cheetah mentioned above.
The team of rangers and their guests have had incredible sightings of him. A notable one included him being chased over 400m by a dominant male lion towards where a pack of 20 wild dogs were trying to hunt a herd of impala! Cheetahs are known to be at the bottom of the predator hierarchy (even below wild dogs), so it has not been all sunshine and rainbows for him so far.
He has been viewed mostly south of the Londolozi camps from the airstrip towards the eastern boundary often moving across open crests, climbing atop termite mounds and fallen marula trees whilst looking for prey to hunt and avoiding the prides of lions in the area. We are hoping he can establish a stable territory soon and continue to provide us with wonderful sightings.
A Mother Cheetah and Two Cubs
A Mother Cheetah with two cubs made a surprise appearance in the central part of the reserve about a month ago. She was not seen again and her whereabouts are currently unknown. However, seeing her has sparked great excitement in the guiding team as we presume that she is the same mother cheetah that was seen with four adorable cubs in February 2021.
If these assumptions are true, this means she has successfully raised two of the four cubs to an age of around 15 months which is a huge success for a mother cheetah in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Cheetah cubs are very vulnerable to predation and so they are frequently moved by the mother to new refuges and are often killed in the open as the mother ensures their safety. Even at the age of six or seven months, when the mother takes the cubs to a carcass to feed, they are still at a high risk of being preyed on.
With this being said, it was wonderful to see her thriving, hunting with confidence and moving about with her two youngsters and we will hopefully get the chance of seeing this trio again and watch the mother raise them both to independence.
A Male Cheetah
The last individual that we have seen in the recent past is an adult male cheetah. Male cheetahs are known to roam huge distances and we have been hearing of a male cheetah far into the western neighbour’s property as well as to our south. However, we have yet to see him this year.
Male cheetahs are more territorial than their counterparts and can hold a territory for up to four years. Coalitions that are formed by more than one male establish and maintain territories for longer periods whereas single males are wanderers. Due to the high predator competition in the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, we suspect this male has wandered off to either find a female to mate with or establish a territory under less pressure from lions.
The Charismatic Cheetah – the fastest mammal on earth… Whether it’s tracking them down, bumping into one by complete luck or responding to one that’s already been found, we all love spending time with cheetahs and they have to be one of the most exciting cats to see. If you ask any ranger or tracker, seeing this animal in its natural habitat is one of the most exhilarating experiences! I hope you enjoyed the update.