Let me tell you, so far my days have been getting better and better. Today I will largely skip to the most exciting event of my days game drive.
After having been pretty rushed over the previous couple of days, to my relief the number of guests on drives this morning meant only one vehicle was required to go out. Lucky for me, Kololo had arranged for Jacques to handle that and the services of both of us would be required for the afternoon drives. So a morning of administration and some 4×4 driving practice before prepping the vehicle and picking up my guests and their refreshments ready for the afternoon drive.
During our initial engagement with the guests, Jacques was kind enough to let me know exactly where he’d had a first class sign of one of the local Cheetah females and cubs (wherein the mother walked past the front of their vehicle a matter of a few metres away). Armed with that information I set off with 9 guests and the intention of taking a leisurely drive towards Jacques earlier sighting to see if we could pick them up them again. A great decision on my part as it turned out.
Unexpected cheetah stalking prey
So, out past the usual groups of plains animals, stopping on the edge of the open grassland to view a group of Eland and Zebra in the distance. As I was describing these to my guests another guide approached requesting access to my cheetah sighting – by pure chance I had stopped in one of the best locations to view (but not necessarily to spot) the female and her four 11-month old cubs that were peeking out from a small stand of bush. Wonderful.
As we watched they started to head slowly in our general direction and, more importantly, towards a small herd (+/- 15 animals) of Wildebeest comprising of a mix of adults and sub-adults. To my knowledge, a healthy adult Wildebeest is a little beyond the normal prey for Cheetah but I was pretty sure that she must know what she was doing.
Ready to Kill
We had a great location from which to watch the initial approach, with mother stealthily nearing the wildebeest (who paradoxically were blissfully grazing whilst meandering slowly towards the hidden danger, thereby helping to close the distance between them and continuing to face the hunters). To maintain a good view of the developing hunt, I turned around (the Cheetah had started to move behind rather than to the side of my vehicle) and positioned the car on a small rise and in what I hoped would be a favourable viewing position.
The hunt continued to develop with mum now stalking properly and intent upon her prey, followed a little distance behind by the four cubs that were also stalking. The cubs were creeping with head and shoulders lowered, ears flat and belly held close to the ground to take advantage of the covering vegetation.
When she’d decided the gap was small enough the mother started to trot and then to run towards the wildebeest who’s initial startled reaction meant they jumped and started running towards the Cheetah mother before splitting up and spreading out. Around this point the mother selected her intended prey, changed up a gear and focussed her full attention solely on preventing it’s attempt at escape. As I had predicted to my guests, her chosen victim was one of the sub-adult wildebeest. An animal born in the prior calving season and not yet fully grown, a little lacking in experience with predators, one not as strong as the adults and armed only with short horns for potential self-defence therefore not as dangerous.
The chase was short, with the mother Cheetah launching herself onto the back of the wildebeest and bringing it down in the long grass. This meant that my guests and I were prevented from witnessing the coup-de-gras (strangulation by the mother cheetah before she recovered her breath3 from the chase and together with the cubs started to eat their prize). I relocated once again in order to improve our view of the feasting cheetah. They were clearly visible through a gap in the long grass tufts although there was still some ground cover preventing sight of their prey. Although I would have been happy to remain on the site to watch for any further developments4, my guests seemed to have seen enough of this spectacle so we continued on our journey.
50% of Cheetah attacks are successful
Given that locating Cheetah can be difficult, witnessing a hunt is unusual and only around 50% are successful (yesterday’s unsuccessful chase being an example of failure), this was a great sighting, followed by sundowners, then close (+/- 15m) sightings of a bull White Rhino, a breeding pair of Hippo and a pair of black backed Jackal before heading back in the dark for dinner.
The end of another special day as a professional guide.