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Newsletter 67

Wild Cheetah Return to the Free State of South Africa after 100 Years

In the lowveld of South Africa, the cheetah mother is moving her 5, three month old cubs in the late afternoon. She has left it too late, it will be a costly mistake.  

In the fading light, two male lions anticipate the direction of the moving cheetah and set up an ambush. Silently the males wait for the cheetah to come closer. 

At 50 metres the male lions make their attack. The cheetah mother tries to decoy the male lions by running in front of them, but her young cubs are not quick enough. One cub perishes in the jaws of the male lion.

Three cubs dive into the tall grass, their mantles camouflaging with the grass. They remain silent and motionless.

Young cheetah possesses a mantle which begins to disappear at three months old. The mantle helps camouflage in the flowering grass

The fifth cub runs with his mother and survives. The male lions do not eat the dead cub. They discard it, having snapped its spine. 

Now the male lions wait silently as the sun sets across the lowveld of South Africa. An hour passes and then one of the cubs makes a critical error, it chirps trying to locate its mother. One of the male lions finds it easily and kills it with one bite. Another hour goes by and a second cub grows impatient and chirps for its mother. It suffers the same fate as the previous cub. By morning all three cubs that had tried to hide plus the first cub are all dead. 

As the sun sets, the anxious cheetah mother waits nearby

The male lions move off, marking territory and roaring as they go. There is no anger or hate, they have simply removed a rival predator.  

The cheetah mother returns with the surviving cub and although her cubs are clearly dead she calls for them for the next two days. It's a pitiful sight. 

The mother cheetah calls for the cubs for the next 2 days

After two days, the cheetah mother must hunt for herself and her remaining cub. As she stalks a herd of impala, the cub elevates on a fallen marula tree to watch the hunt. Unbeknown to the cheetah cub or its mother, they are being watched by a female leopard lying in the leafy branches of an ebony tree. 

After lions, leopards are the biggest killers of cheetah cubs

The cheetah mother stalks through the tall grass to within 80 metres of the unsuspecting impala. Suddenly she makes her run, the long flexible spine gives her a huge stride. The powerful legs drive her forward at 80 km per hour. Most of the time her feet are clear of the ground as she literally flies through the air.  Her large nostrils feed her body with oxygen. The impala tries to zig-zag to throw her off, but she is experienced. Her following distance remains constant for 200 metres, then sensing the impala is tiring she moves up a gear and closes with the impala. Her front leg sweeps the legs from under the impala and she tumbles it. Before the impala can recover she has it in her jaws. The cheetah canines close over the windpipe blocking off the air supply. The exhausted impala takes 11 minutes to die. 

The cheetah mother prepares to swipe the legs from under the impala

The cheetah has the weakest jaws of all the big cats. The exhausted impala takes 11 minutes to die in the jaws of the cheetah

The cheetah cub now 600 metres away from its mother, waits for its mother to call it to the kill. It never hears the call. A quick leap into the marula tree and the leopard kills the young cheetah. Like the lions, he does not eat the cub but tosses it aside. 

Like the lions, the leopard does not eat the dead cub.

The mother cheetah is calling for her cub to join her at the kill. The leopard pin points the call and moves in. The leopard at 50 kilograms easily takes the kill from the 40 kilogram cheetah. In the last 72 hours, the mother cheetah has lost 5 cubs and one impala kill. 

The cheetah mother, still hungry moves off to hunt again. This time she targets an adult female impala and once again she is successful. Too exhausted to feed immediately, she tries to recover herself. Two hooded vultures spot the kill out in the open. Three spotted hyena see the vultures dropping down. They move in at speed and once again drive the cheetah from her kill. It is now 96 hours since she had her last feed. 

In Kenya's Masai Mara, a cheetah mother and her four, 3 months old cubs are hunting in the mid morning. This is the time when rival predators should be least active. The cheetah mother targets a herd of gazelles and gives chase. 

Cheetah mother with her 3 cubs

Still photographers, movies crews and tourist cars chase after the running cheetah, eager to catch the moment when the cheetah dramatically "paw swipes" the gazelle.

The King Cheetah prepares to paw swipe the springbuck as the normal cheetah closes in

The cubs, unable to catch up with their mother, drive into the tall grass. A tourist jeep runs right over one of the hiding cubs, killing it instantly. The litter is down to 3. The cheetah mother misses the gazelle and immediately calls up her cubs. She cannot count and does not notice that one is missing. 

After resting for 3 hours, she moves away to try another hunt. The exhausted cubs remain sleeping in the tall grass. 

To the west, the marsh pride is hunting a herd of buffalo. Complete with adult males, the lionesses will strategize the hunt and the males will assist with the kill. The buffalo flee the approaching lions. 1,600 hooves are pounding through the tall grass towards the sleeping cubs. Miraculously two cubs survive, but one is trampled underfoot and dies immediately under the pounding hooves. The litter is down to 2.  

Two cubs remain from the litter of four

On her return, the cheetah mother sniffs the dead cub. She chirps it, but it does not respond. She leads her two cubs away. There is no burial as in the case of leopards or tigers. 

The  following day the cheetah mother is back hunting. Her exhausted cubs remain hidden in the tall grass nearby. Suddenly a fire, lit by Masai tribesman, who are burning the tall grass for their cattle, starts to burn towards the hidden cubs, Fanned by a strong wind the fire accelerated towards the unsuspecting cubs. 

The cheetah mother saves one cub from the fire. However, the second cub perishes in the flames

The cheetah mother realizing the danger, races back to the cubs. She can only take one cub in her jaws. With cub in her mouth she outruns the raging fire. The remaining cub perished in the flames. The liter is down to one. 

From the original litter of 4, one cub remains

In  Namibia vast areas are under stock farming. The farmers have destroyed the rival predators of the cheetah, the lion, leopard and spotted hyenas. These are found only in the national parks and private game reserves. Without the competition of lion, leopard and spotted hyena the cheetah has thrived in Namibia. 

However, the farmers have not only destroyed the rival predators, they have removed the natural prey of the cheetah as well. These have been replaced by slow moving sheep and goats. The cheetah turn to this easy prey and the farmers in turn, destroy the cheetah and so the vicious cycle continues. 

Even in private game reserve in South Africa where the habitat has been manipulated to suit the cheetah and prey is abundant, the cheetah struggles to compete. In short it sits firmly at the bottom of the predator hierarchy. 

In Tanzania's Serengetti, the cheetah can lose 75% of their kills to lion, leopard and spotted hyena. 

The fastest animal on the planet is becoming more and more endangered. 

The cheetah sits firmly at the bottom of the predator hierarchy

I take great pleasure in announcing that for the first time in 100 years, wild cheetah had been reintroduced into the Free State Province of SA

Guests visiting Tiger Canyons can now see, photograph and be inspired by two highly endangered cats, tiger and cheetah. 

Tiger Canyons has large open grasslands, very suitable for cheetah

I would like to thank Rodney and Lorna Drew, the Director of the Dept Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Tseko Lephokogoe, the Environmental Management Inspector, Werner Boing and Nature Conservation Biodiversity Officer, Wimpy Geyer for their vision and support. 

Tread Lightly on the Earth

The Cheetah - Facts and Information about the Cheetah in Africa

By , About.com Guide

Cheetahs are the fastest animals on earth, that's one fact that most people know. But there's more to a cheetah than speed alone. It's one of Africa's most beautiful animals, and you are lucky if you get to see one on safari. Find out all about cheetah in Africa, including lots of fun facts below.

Speed - The Cheetah's Greatest Asset
Everything about a cheetah's body is built for speed. They have a flexible spine, large liver and heart, wide nostrils, increased lung capacity, and thin muscular body. They run so fast and stride so long, that only one foot at a time touches the ground. A recent study shows that a sprinting cheetah uses the same mechanics as a rear-wheel-drive car, all its power comes from the back. The cheetah's hind limbs have muscles and fibers suited to power running, whereas those on its fore limbs are better for steering and balance. Car manufacturers have got it right thus far, but they're still struggling to keep up with the cheetah on acceleration. A cheetah can go from 0 - 60 mph in under three seconds, an acceleration Porsche owners can only dream about (they're currently at 4.1 seconds to reach 60 mph).

But Speed Isn't Everything ...
Cheetah's are a bit different from other big cats in Africa. For one, they hunt during the day, so they avoid direct competition from leopards and lions. The black tear marks below their eyes keeps the bright sun light from blinding them while they hunt. Unlike lions, they are solitary animals and this makes them more vulnerable to predators since the mother has to leave her cubs alone while she hunts. Only around 10% of cheetah cubs even make it to adulthood. Cheetah's are not naturally aggressive animals, they run from danger. This makes it easy for other predators to take their kill, and also their young. Cheetahs may be speedy, but tire quickly and expend a lot of energy hunting in this manner. An injury is a disaster for the solitary cheetah.

Cheetah Conservation Status
If you combine some of the cheetah's innate frailties, with pressure on its habitat from farming, resulting in less prey as well as reduced territory, it's not surprising to discover that cheetah are on the IUCN Red List listed as a "vulnerable" species. Many cheetah populations have simply been wiped out by farmers protecting their livestock. A key component to future cheetah conservation is therefore educating farmers about the cheetah, and figuring out a way local communities can benefit from potential tourism dollars spent by those coming to see the cheetah in its natural environment. The cheetah's beauty has also been its curse, as poaching has taken its toll on their numbers too. It is estimated that there are around 12,000 cheetah left in the world today.

Fun Cheetah Facts

  • There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild (most of them in Africa)

  • Cheetahs can reach a sprinting speed of 114kph (71mph)

  • Cheetahs can purr, but they can't roar

  • Cheetahs usually live for about 12 years

  • A female cheetah raises her cubs alone

  • When a cheetah runs, only one foot at a time touches the ground

  • Cheetahs are not good climbers

  • Cheetahs don't have fully retractable claws

  • Algeria is home to 200 cheetahs

  • Outside of Africa, wild cheetahs can only be spotted in Iran

  • A cheetah is not part of the "Big Five" on safari, but should be if the list was based on most desirable animals to see on safari!

Where You Are Likely To Spot a Cheetah on Safari?
Cheetah populations are thinly spread throughout Africa over 25 countries, as far north as Algeria, and as far south as South Africa. There is also a small cheetah population in Iran. Namibia in south west Africa has the largest population, with an estimated 3000 cheetah calling this large, sparse country, home. Cheetahs are not so easy to spot, you may have a better chance if you go on safari in winter when the grass is not so high on the open plains (see more about Best Time to Go on Safari)

Cheetah Spotting in East Africa
The best places to take a safari if you want to see cheetahs in the wild include Tanzania's Serengeti National Park (where I saw my first cheetah). You can take part in tracking cheetah for conservation if you stay at Sanctuary Kusini camp. Tanzania's Selous in the south is also home to a relatively large population of cheetah (and wild dogs). In Kenya you are likely to see cheetah in the Masai Mara, check out this fun account of a close encounter with a cheetah!

Cheetah Spotting in Southern Africa
While Namibia has the highest cheetah population in Africa, many live outside of the big national parks, so it may be best to visit one of the excellent cheetah conservation projects listed below. In South Africa check out Phinda Private Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Kruger has a decent cheetah population, but the woodland type foliage in many park areas makes them a little more difficult to spot. Zambia is a great safari destination, your best bet for cheetah is Kafue National Park. If you're on safari in Botswana, your best chances of seeing cheetah are in Chitabe area of the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti and Kwando Reserves.



Tread lightly on the Earth

Copyright 2007 @jvbigcats  All rights reserved


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