August 2023

Survival and sacrifice - A cheetah mother's caution amidst the chase on the Lamai plains

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Survival and sacrifice - A cheetah mother's caution amidst the chase on the Lamai plains

On 3 August we found ourselves captivated by an extraordinary spectacle on the Lamai plains. A mother cheetah was cautiously navigating Boundary Road with her two sub-adult cubs, their youthful innocence a contrast to the raw wilderness around them.

Suddenly, the serenity was pierced by the sight of a lone wildebeest calf, its vulnerability palpable. The mother cheetah, an embodiment of predatory instinct, locked her gaze onto the calf. However, her eyes held a hint of caution - her cubs were her priority.

As the wildebeest calf sensed danger and bolted, the mother cheetah sprang into action. The plains became a stage for a high-speed chase, the dust kicked up by the wildebeest calf and the cheetah creating a dramatic backdrop. But the mother cheetah's pursuit was not reckless - she kept a wary eye on her cubs, ensuring they were safe.

The chase took an unexpected turn when the fleeing calf stumbled upon two male cheetahs, brothers, hidden in the grass. The calf, in a state of panic, attempted a sharp turn, but its hooves betrayed it, and it slipped onto the ground.

The mother cheetah, upon seeing the two males, made a split-second decision. Her maternal instincts overpowered her predatory ones. These males could harm or kill her cubs if they had not fathered them. She veered away, her focus shifting from the hunt to the safety of her cubs. She led her cubs away, her eyes constantly darting back to the two males.

The brothers claimed the prize effortlessly, their feast a stark reminder of the unforgiving laws of the wild. The mother cheetah and her cubs, now safely perched on high ground a hundred metres away, watched the scene. They were silent spectators to the harsh realities of life in the wild, a lesson that the mother cheetah would use to prepare her cubs for their own survival.

Peter Chatama
By Peter Chatama
Field Guide