Mashatu Cheetahs

This is the fifth post from my recent trip with friends to Mashatu Game Reserve. One of the unique aspects about Mashatu is that you are likely to have good sightings of Cheetahs.  I have travelled throughout Africa good sightings of Cheetah are hard to find. There are two Cheetah families operating in the Mashatu Game Reserve. One group comprised a coalition of three males and the other an adult female with four, now not so little, cubs.

“Travel is rebellion in its purest form. We follow out heart. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We, sometimes, choose never to come back”

Anonymous

We have been privileged to get a number of separate sightings of the cubs growing up. Five cubs were born but after about three months one was killed. Since then the Cheetah Mum has done an admirable job of raising four cubs in an area occupied by Lions and many Hyaenas.

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You can see this is a young Cheetah as its teeth are still razor-sharp.

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Cheetahs have an ability to lie absolutely flat on the ground.

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This was closeup of one of the young Cheetahs gazing out with a soulful look. The black stripes down their faces from their eyes help reduce glare and improve vision in bright light conditions.

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It is not often you get to see the Cheetah’s non-retractable claws. Perfect spikes for the high performance sprinting athlete. 

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Two almost fully grown cubs with their mother. Within the group they are always looking around. They lie in exposed areas for protection but also enables them to see potential prey far off.

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Long, lean and lithe. Cheetahs generally live in dry areas and get most of their moisture from their prey. They can do without water for three to four days if need be.

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When Cheetah roll over to lie on their other side, they rollover on their backs with their paws up

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The roll is often accompanied by a yawn. Cheetahs rest up in the shade during the day, but don’t usually sleep. They hunt in the cooler times of daylight.

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Cheetahs hunt during the day for two main reasons. Firstly, they have less competition from Lions and Hyaenas and secondly, you need to see where you are going when you are travelling at 110 kilometres per hour through the bush. They can accelerate from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in just three seconds.

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At close to full speed a Cheetah is taking three strides every second – covering six to eight metres per stride.

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Cheetahs do not have  bulk and claws to bring down prey but rather use speed and tripping to bring it down, then wrestle it to the ground and throttle it with a choke hold.

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Females are solitary, whereas males tend to live in small coalitions of two to three individuals, usually brothers. This Cheetah mum decided to move on. She got up and first looked around. Before they do anything they quickly look around make sure of no unexpected surprises.

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“Our relationship with nature is more one of being than having.  We are nature: we do not have nature. ”

–  Steven Harper

This Cheetah female is in superb condition, despite having to look after and feed four near adult cubs.

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I am not sure how old the cubs are now but they must be about 15 months old. Cubs typically stay with their mothers for one and a half to two years.

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The entire family lying in the semi-shade of a thorn tree. Their closeness is apparent but life will soon change for all of them.

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”

Dmitry Merezhkovsky

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Cheetah’s have the ability to lie very flat on the ground. Their profile looks aerodynamic even when they are lying down.

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The second group of Cheetahs we were fortunate enough to see was a coalition of three males. The three males were lying on top of McKenzie’s Hill looking down on the plains below. The Cheetah’s spotted coat blends in well with their surrounds providing effective camouflage.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”  

–  Rachel Carson

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It was late afternoon and these males had clearly eaten earlier that day. They started to stir and get mobile.

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Cheetah’s, young and old, have a very distinctive way of rolling over, yawning and stretching. Some of their mannerisms are very familiar.

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Cheetahs do not roar like Lions, however they do have a range of other meaningful vocalisations such as purring, growling and a variety of contact calls which resemble bird-like chirping sounds.

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This male Cheetah was smelling the ground around some of the bushes which are clearly used as scent sign posts.

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All three males scent marked the bushes.

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Just look at how full this male Cheetah’s belly is, it must have feasted well earlier that day. Cheetah’s are fast in all respects. They chase fast, kill fast and eat fast. Often Jackals start yelping as soon as they see a kill, alerting other predators to the action. So Cheetahs need to eat fast so they get most of the rewards of their efforts.

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The males started to walk down the hill and in the process stopped to scent mark on available sign posts.

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The only threats Cheetahs have are Lions, and Hyaenas and sometimes Leopards. Snakes are also a threat to younger Cheetahs.

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These males certainly had fed well that day. They would not need to feed for another day or two. Speed is their best weapon and they would battle, constrained by those full bellies. The back half of a Cheetah’s tail is elongated vertically and is used as a rudder when travelling at high speed.

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A classic pose of a Cheetah smelling the scent signs around a  well-worn tree.

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We have had excellent Cheetah sightings on almost every occasion we have been to Mashatu. We have yet to watch a chase and kill in Mashatu – so we keep going back!!!!.

“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”

Milan Kundera

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

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