It was just before seven in the morning in Mashatu Game Reserve in south eastern Botswana. We were on our game vehicle looking for a cheetah family, comprising a mother and her four almost adult cubs. We were looking in the area they had been last been seen the night before.
“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” ~ John Muir
Cheetahs do not usually move at night which is when the lions, leopards and hyaenas are all active. We therefore knew that were in the area. After searching for a while (in the right area) we found the cheetah family on the move.
There were three sub-adult males and a female with their mother. They were walking through the bush with intent. We followed from a distance so as not to interfere with their search for food. When cheetahs sweep the bush like this anything can happen.
“Let go of all your thoughts and concerns. Immerse yourself in the moment. Look and listen, and nature will slowly reveal herself to you. It takes time and respect for you to tune in. Only then will you begin to truly see.” ~ Mike Haworth
It did! An adult male Steenbok broke its cover and bolted.
It was a astounding how quickly that Steenbok dashed up and over the rise on the stony terrain.
In an instant, one of the young cheetah males took up chase. It was impossible to get both quarry and predator in the same image because there was such as large gap between the two when they came past us. The cheetah’s acceleration was breathtaking and it was quickly in the chase.
We lost sight of the two as the eternal dash of life and death played out. We could only see where the two had run to from a game vehicle which had stopped on the main Mashatu road. That vehicle must have had a prime sighting of the cheetah actually catching the Steenbok.
Unfortunately through ignorance or otherwise, one of the guests stood up on the game vehicle, which must have been quite close to the cheetah with its kill. In the midst of strangling its prey, the young cheetah got a fright when the person stood up (in the game vehicle), scaring the young cheetah and it ran away leaving its half dead Steenbok catch.
As it happened, an adult Black-backed jackal was close by and witnessed the take down. It saw the young cheetah leave the half strangled Steenbok unattended. Needless to say after watching to see that the cheetah did not return, the jackal seized the half dead victim. The jackal bit into the back of the Steenbok’s neck in an attempt to finish off the strangulation. It worked.
Once the Steenbok had stopped breathing, the jackal tried to pull the dead antelope away from the glaring view of the spectators.
The Black-backed jackal clearly could not believe his luck.
This jackal kept on looking around to check that no other predator had seen what was going down. Every now and then he looked to check that the Steenbok was actually dead.
“If you chase perfection, you often catch excellence. ” ~ William Fowble
The jackal eventually managed to cut into the Steenbok’s hide and began to feed. Strangely the jackal did not gorge itself. Perhaps the final killing and dragging was too strenuous a task, and after feeding briefly the jackal backed off about twenty metres from the kill to rest. After a while we left the jackal and its kill and went looking for the cheetahs again
The cheetahs having lost their prey slowly made their way back to each other and regrouped.
The cheetah involved in the chase was still breathing deeply.
“Stop chasing what your mind wants and you’ll get what your soul needs.” ~ Anonymous
The most amazing aspect of the whole sighting was that the chase must have lasted just a few seconds and took place over probably 400 metres. It also took place over very uneven stony ground with gullies and thorn bushes everywhere.
The one, among many, impressive aspects about wildlife is that there is no apparent animosity over the loss of the kill. Acceptance is swift and the predator moves on. Within twenty or so minutes the family had reunited and stopped to rest in the shade of a shepherd’s bush, alert for the next opportunity.
The thrill of the chase is beyond description. It is fresh and cool, early in the morning. There is the sound of birds everywhere. You are watching the cheetahs quietly making their way through the bush. Then, in an instant there is action. A chase is underway with the sound of hooves and pads on the stony ground and in a flash there is just wisps of dust swirling in the air.
“I would rather have an mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” ~ Gerry Spence
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike
Beautifully dramatic photographs.