Cheetah viewing at SKNP

Kruger National Park · October 2019
By Benjamin Ackerman
Field Guide

The month of October has blessed Singita Kruger National Park with phenomenal cheetah viewing, almost on a daily basis. For us to have seen the cats on such a regular basis is remarkable as the cheetah population of the Kruger stands between 120-170 individuals according to the Kruger National Park census. This past month we have sighted several different groups and individuals: two males, a coalition of four males, a single one-eyed male, a single female and a few skittish individuals. This means that we have had around 8% of the total population of cheetah in the park on our concession this month.

Out of all of the viewings of these cats, the coalition of four young males have provided me with the most action-packed and intense sightings. These four brothers have been moving up and down the central depression of the concession and have been seen almost daily. Watching these four live their lives is quite incredible and it shows the bond of brotherhood to an astonishing degree. One of the brothers has a badly injured back leg – it looks like a hip dislocation that may have happened while hunting. Usually, the African bush is an unforgiving home to injured animals, but his three healthy comrades refuse to let him fall behind or waste away. When the coalition gets up to move, the three stronger brothers move a short distance away then start calling him and wait for him to catch up. One hot afternoon they were witnessed calling for him to catch up from almost a kilometre away. When he did not join them, his brothers turned around and went back to him, lying next to him until he was able to move with them. It is awe-inspiring and humbling to observe. The brothers have such a close bond, and they rely on each other for both companionship and survival.

Spending time with these cats has been a real treat, as we don’t always have them on the concession so frequently. This month, I was privileged enough to be on the scene of two amazing hunting sprees by the brothers. At the first, I watched them stalk a herd of kudus in open ground. All four of them went after the kudu’s, scattering them all over the bush. At first, it seemed as if the cheetahs had lost a meal, but two of the kudus lost track of where the cheetahs had dispersed to rest after a full sprint, and while looking for the rest of their herd, walked right back into an ambush. One kudu jumped high over a cheetah who tried to somersault to catch the antelope, but missed. The chase was on again, however, and the cheetah brothers earned themselves a hard-won meal. I was lucky enough to capture a few photographs of this amazing scene of life and death on the savannah.

A few days after that, I came across the brothers actively looking for a meal. There were a few half-hearted attempts at multiple herds of impala, but apparently the cheetahs were looking for something more substantial to satiate them. I watched the four walking through the grassland, climbing termite mounds and tree stumps to scour the horizon for prey. We couldn’t see anything from the vehicle other than a large group of giraffes at the base of the ridge. Surely, I thought, they aren’t going to try to take down a giraffe, there must be something else out there that I couldn’t see. Then they began the stalk. As they got closer to the giraffe they started running and locked onto a baby giraffe – I estimated that it could have only have been about eight months old. There were three cheetahs running full tilt after a terrified calf and we thought it was only a matter of time before the giraffe got ankle-tapped or tripped on something. Suddenly, the youngster, through fear and adrenalin, put on a heroic burst of speed that shocked everyone, including the cheetahs, and pulled away from the jaws of the hungry cats. We did not witness a kill on the savannah that day, but it is a sighting that will stay with me for a lifetime.

By Benjamin Ackerman
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