The Cheetahs

This was my first safari. I didn’t know exactly what to expect or not to expect but experienced safari goers are pretty shocked by the fact that we saw three different cheetah kills. I’m not talking about driving up and seeing a cheetah eating something that they captured but rather we watched the cheetah assess the situation, develop a strategy and execute on their plan. It was stunning to watch, it doesn’t happen quickly, and you need a lot of patience. All three were different but no less interesting. Cheetahs are generally alone but they will work as a hunting pair and they hunt during the day (which does give better odds for us to see them in action). Our first encounter was with two brothers as a hunting pair. We were in the Mara Triangle where the grasses were long and provided good cover. In the field near them were a couple of Topi and more Wildebeests. Cheetahs working alone are very careful about not trying to take on too big of a foe but working together they can can go after a larger animal. Topi’s are usually very aware of their surroundings and are nicknamed the sentry from standing on top of termite mounds looking around. In this instance the Topis were a little bit lax on the job. One walked further away to eat and the second came down off the mound and was also munching away. When the Topi looked up it seemed that the cheetahs realized it was full grown and not realistic prey. What was realistic was a small wildebeest juvenile just nearby but just far enough away from the other wildebeests to be interesting. The cheetahs now had a plan. For the next bit of time we watched as they went down low in the grass, inched forward, came up to survey the situation, go back down again and silently communicated between themselves. ¬†Finally they were close enough to make this particular attach……whoooosh and they were off in unison and took down the baby wildebeest. One pinned down the back legs, and the other got the windpipe and strangled the animal. I felt pretty lucky to experience this and was mesmerized by the process. I never figured we would see this play out differently two more times. Working together the cheetahs were able to get close, make a bigger kill and not have to expend too much energy. The other two were solitary cheetahs, the prey was much further away, they were more out in the open and they needed to do what cheetahs are known for, go all out on the full run.

The second kill was a baby Thompson Gazelle that was staying close to the mother. Adult “tommies” can outrun a cheetah but the smaller children can’t. Once the cheetah realized that the tommie across the field had a small child with her, the decision was made. First the stalking, and then the dead on full run. I wasn’t prepared for the run and how fast the cheetah really is when they go into “overdrive”. I was able to get off a couple of really bad shots.

The third time as we watched the story unfold I was determined to try out video. The cheetah was so fast that I lost focus in the video….I’m going to leave it in the final cut (not ready yet) because it does give an idea of the speed. As we watched the third one, we radioed to our travel companions on what was transpiring. They arrived just after the cheetah had made their run and was munching on a baby Impala. As we looked out of our roof hatch to speak with our friends, Sallie Jo said “holy ****” there is a Leopard! It went into the bushes. Since we both had already seen a cheetah dine on two other critters we were more interested in the leopard’s behavior than the cheetah. Well, the leopard knew exactly what was going on and wanted to hunt “the easy way” by stealing the cheetah’s kill. Eventually the cheetah realized she was being stalked by the leopard and again I caught some of that on video but in the last picture you can see the cheetah trying to eat but looking to where she knows the leopard is lurking. In the end, the leopard did not get the kill. This was most probably because of the humans in the area. When something interesting is going on, it is amazing at how many safari vehicles will eventually come up on the scene and stay for a while. The thought in this case was that there was too much activity going on and the leopard decided to leave the kill and not go after it.



I’ve got some video of this as well but seeing as I am a complete video newbie….it may take a while….first I need to just get it off the card!

There is no joy and pleasure at watching a kill and one animal devour another (posing with a bloody snout). What is fascinating is watching the entire eco system and seeing how the animals, live their lives and how interdependent they are on each other.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 9, 2011 at 4:30 AM by Joan | Permalink

    Terry, WOW, how lucky you were to see the cheetahs in action! It looks like you had an amazing trip, your first round of pictures are super, looking forward to seeing more and reading more stories about your adventures. So sorry to hear that your little adopted elephant didn’t make it, how terribly sad.

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