The aristocracy returns to MalaMala, by ranger Pieter van Wyk

A cheetah in the green

If at noon on a summer’s day you stood in the middle of one of MalaMala’s open plains, you may be overcome by a feeling of isolation. But any sense of emptiness is just an illusion. On closer inspection you will discover that these vast expanses are teaming with an array of bird and insect life, as well as a healthy variety of mammals and reptiles too.

There is, however, one animal in particular you will want to be on the lookout for…

A family portrait

Take out your binoculars and scan the horizon. Focus on elevated points such as termite mounds, before going over the grassland with a fine-tooth-comb. The species you seek will either be perched like royalty on a termite mound, or lurking in the sea of grass below. Any clues?

The male seen around the Airstrip

You’d be right if you guessed the cheetah. The fastest mammal on land, and surely the most elegant, regal and dignified predator on the continent.

The male seen around the Airstrip sets off after a male impala

History tells us to expect a significant increase in acinonyx jubatus sightings during summer months over winter months.

Let’s take a glance at the last quarter’s statistics:

November: 12 sightings of 2 cheetah (2 brothers).

December: 12 sightings of 12 cheetah (2 brothers, female with 4 cubs, 5 young adults).

January: 16 sightings of 7 cheetah (2 brothers, female with 3 cubs, young male).

Cheetah siblings

Points of interest:

  • Of the two brothers, one remains. We are uncertain as to the fate of the other.
  • The female lost two of her cubs, with the most likely culprits being lions.
  • We have not seen the five young adult cheetahs since December.

So far this summer, we’ve viewed the one remaining brother around Clarendon Dam, as well as another young male around the Airstrip. But the major talking point among us is the return of the female and her two youngsters.

The last of the cheetah brothers

They came back to MalaMala from the west and spent quite a few days on the western bank between the Airstrip and Rattray’s Camp before crossing eastwards through the Sand River into central and eastern Flockfield. The cubs are now over a year old. Add to that the arrival of hundreds of impala lambs, and the result is a spectacle to behold. The female cheetah is in the process of teaching her cubs how to hunt and kill. Unlike lions (which have to learn by observation, trial and error), cheetahs are afforded the opportunity of practicing on young animals which their mother catches alive. They will often paw at the defenceless young animal, encouraging it to get up and run before they give chase. They will then catch it, drag it around for a bit and do it all over again before finally bringing proceedings to an end.

Practice makes perfect

A cheetah feeding frenzy

This young female keeps a lookout as her mother and brother feast

After consuming their steenbok, it's time for a rest

The family of three was last seen in eastern Flockfield, an area of the property that very much suits their habitat requirements.

Fast Facts regarding the cheetah:

  • It’s estimated that only 12,000 individuals are left on the African continent.
  • Contrary to popular belief, East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) do not boast the biggest populations. In fact they are not even in the top three! Namibia has the most, followed by Botswana and then South Africa.
  • It’s estimated that around 450 individuals remain in the Kruger National Park and the Greater Kruger area.
  • South Africa’s healthiest cheetah population is our ‘free ranging population’ that stretches along our northern borders.
  • The Top 3 threats to their survival after habitat destruction are lions, humans (persecution/ trade) and leopards respectively.

Here at MalaMala cheetahs need not worry about humans as a threat, but the danger posed by other predators, especially lions, remains grave. The female cheetah we’ve been seeing has done well to keep two of her cubs out of harms way. Let’s hope they make it all the way through to independence.

The good mother

The male with the limp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.