The bush is drying out quickly and the palette has changed from gold, to bronze and copper which makes for good sightings, as does the lack of surface water. There seems to be a peak in predators right now as there are two different lionesses with cubs, a leopard mother whose cub we’ve just glimpsed in the last week, a den of hyena cubs and a pack of wild dogs with a heavily pregnant alpha female. The cheetah family have had a tough time, but the survivors are doing well as you’ll see from the story that follows. Another helping of impala?
The mother cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has two female cubs that are now about nine months old. They are the two survivors from a litter of five. We suspect the first was killed by a lion, the second by a leopard and the third by an undiagnosed illness. Fortunately wildlife filmmaker Kim Wolhuter who spends most days with this cheetah family quickly
intervened when the two remaining cubs showed signs of illness and injury, and thanks to veterinary care these endangered cheetahs have survived.
Out searching for them recently we could pinpoint where they were thanks to a wake of vultures perched in a tall mopane tree. The mother cheetah had killed an impala and a great feast was taking place. The cubs were stretched out with that very familiar post Christmas/Thanksgiving pose – their bellies were bulging so much that they looked like
they might pop, and they were the helpless victims of a nap attack. The mother cheetah
finished the feast but before resting she called the cubs and led them away.
The vultures descended and feasted on the scraps making sure that not a morsel went to waste. Cheetahs are very vulnerable to attack by other predators -although they are the
fastest runners they are the most ‘delicate’ of the cats and can be easily injured. Other
predators will scavenge their kills from them, so their strategy is to eat quickly, keep an eye out for danger at all times, abandon the kill if they are threatened, and leave the kill site as soon as they’ve finished so as to be out of the way of any predator that might be
drawn to the area by the smell of blood and the presence of vultures.
The cubs duly followed their mother to a quiet shady scrubland, and it was only then that she settled down and began licking the mouth area and face of her cub who returned the favour simultaneously. This behaviour has multiple benefits as it keeps them clean, keeps the flies at bay and removes the last traces of blood from one another.
As fastidious about personal hygiene, and possibly even more so, is the leopard. I have only ever seen a dirty leopard once, and that was a young male immediately after he had mud wrestled an impala to its demise in what was his first successful kill. Lions, on the other hand, are not as fussy about cleanliness. As the largest and most feared of all the predators they do not need to be worried about cleaning the traces of blood from their coats, as no other predator (with the exception of hyenas) would be brazen enough to sniff them out, steal a meal or challenge their existence.
Cheetahs, leopards and lions have tongues that are covered with hookshaped structures called papillae. These papillae make the tongue extremely rough and were one of these big cats to lick us it’s possible that they could tear our delicate skin.
As much a part of the game drive experience is when the sky is awash with a tint of mauve
and your guide brings the game viewer to a standstill at a safe and picture perfect spot.
You’re encouraged to step down from the vehicle, stretch your legs and drink in the scene – it could be a beautiful tree, open plain, rock formation, river or pan. While you’re still clicking away you hear a voice informing you that, “The bar is now open and drinks will be served.” You turn to see that a bar has indeed appeared, complete with your favourite choice of sundowner as well as a couple of tasty snacks. There’s no better way to end a day. This is the magic of Africa!
Photos and game report courtesy Singita Pamushana & Jenny Hishin