Masai Mara Migration: A Cheetah Kill From Start to Feeding – and Then?

Wim’s News from the Masai Mara Migration Safari: A Cheetah Kill From Start to Feeding – and Then?
Our aim when we set out this morning was to try and track down a female cheetah that we had heard was slightly to the north of us.
As we left the camp we drove straight into about fifteen hyenas tucking into a Thomson’s Gazelle that they had killed moments before. We stopped to watch the interactions between the clan members as they fed, and to photograph the goings on in the predawn darkness.
After a while we moved on, and because we could see that the wildebeest and zebra are scattered across the plains, we didn’t even head in the direction of the Mara River. Instead we went in search of the female cheetah.
We found her with her two little cubs, and although the sighting was pretty good, if a little far, we decided not to venture any closer to her because she is very skittish and we didn’t want to alarm her and thereby possibly place her and the cubs in a precarious situation.
So we left them and headed south again. It was wonderful as we were the only vehicle around for most of the day.
We had heard of another cheetah with cubs and decided to attempt to find her. We drove around and eventually when we stopped on a ridge and scanned a vast open plain with our binoculars we spotted her! There she was with four adorable little balls of fur – not more than a month old, and tumbling around, playing, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. This cheetah was quite relaxed and we could approach closer than with the earlier one.
We photographed the captivating little family and then suddenly noticed that the mother looked up and focussed intently on a small herd of Thomson’s Gazelles that had wandered quite close.
We immediately retreated and drove in a large arc to place ourselves on the far side of the Tommies, and waited for the action. When we saw the angle that the mom was approaching the Tommies, we quickly repositioned – so as not to be in her way, and to get a good view of any unfolding drama.
She approached the herd from the side – there was no cover for her, as the plain happened to be devoid of trees and there was only some very sparse, short grass here and there. It was also very flat.
Suddenly she jumped up, and the chase was on. The Tommies all scattered, but she had already focussed on just one. We watched, adrenalin pumping and cameras clicking as she sprinted after the Tommy. They zig-zagged this way, then that, then a new direction. We didn’t dare to breathe ..
4 Juan Cheetah Chase Masai Mara -083-79
Then they entered a shallow ditch, and the cheetah was able to spring forward – she had the buck by its neck and quickly strangled it.
As soon as there was no more life in the Tommy, she laid it down next to her and gazed in the direction of her cubs. They were about 800 meters away, far across that plain.
What would she do now, we wondered? Would she eat there, and then return to the cubs? Would she drag the kill over that distance back to them? Would she abandon the kill to fetch them?
None of the above!
She started to call the little ones, and within seconds we could see four darling little balls of fur running for all they were worth across that wide open plain. It was a magnificent sight to see! When they met up with mom, the celebration and joyful greetings were so heart-warming that we all sat there with soft-hearted smiles on our faces. Beautiful!
The cubs realized that this was food, but were unsure about what do do with the carcass, so they made a tentative bite here and there, but then resorted to a game of climb the carcass and tumble down again, while mom watched patiently.
We left at this stage because of the sensitive nature of the sighting, and so as not to draw the attention of any other predators in the area, especially with such tiny cubs on the open plain.
It was time for a latish lunch which we again enjoyed under a large tree.
During the afternoon we arrived at the Talek River. It is not as broad or as deep as the Mara River, but it has its share of hazards for any crossing animals – sheer banks, crocodiles, rocks – and the inevitable predators that wait for that vulnerable moment. We were rewarded with a crossing of around 1500 wildebeest and zebra.
4 Juan Wildebeest Masai Mara 010
They animals crossed in an almost orderly single file, meaning that the crossing took longer than most , but there wasn’t the shoving, dust, panic, and chaos that occurs when the animals all try to push across the river together.
We also found a large male lion dozing peacefully on a plain, but as he was clearly not going to move any time soon, we pushed off.
On the way back to the camp the sky was so spectacular again that we simply had to stop a number of time to photograph the sunset with trees, or the brilliant sky with a wildebeest in the foreground – and so on.
4 Juan Sunset Masai Mara-088-84
We have decided to let the morning bring what it will …
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