“Have the speed of a cheetah and the heart of a lion”
– Kevin Mccarty
This newsletter we have decided to focus on the success of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in the reserve, which have made a remarkable comeback in numbers over the past five years. As highlighted in the quote above, cheetah can reach remarkable speeds (100 – 110km’s per hour) but this speed is often not enough to get them away from the lions (Panthera leo) which use a combination of ambush tactic and brute strength to kill an unsuspecting cheetah.
When the lion population in the reserve was over thirty lions a number of years ago, cheetah that were introduced into the reserve either escaped out of the reserve or fell prey to the lions due to the high pressure of lions on the property. After a management decision was taken and the lions reduced to sixteen individuals (the surplus lions were removed off the reserve to another property), the number of cheetah started to increase at a steady rate. Currently the reserve has nine adult cheetah and twelve youngsters. This is a remarkable number which goes to show that cheetah do not do well in an area where lion numbers are too high.
Cheetahs are active and hunt during the day (diurnal), which helps them to avoid coming into contact with lions and leopards which are active at night. Generally a cheetah will choose to stay clear of a certain area if they are aware that lions have been active in that area over the past day or so. This behaviour can be seen here in the south of the reserve, when the southern pride of lions have been very vocal for a few days, then tracks and signs of cheetah are rather scarce for a few days. We have also witnessed cheetah walking straight into the southern pride of lions in the middle of the day while they are fast asleep in the shade. In these cases the cheetah have managed to escape unharmed as the lions are startled by the cheetah and by the time they realise what has woken them up, the cheetah is already making a hasty getaway.
When looking at a cheetah from the front, one will notice two black “tear marks” running down the face from their eyes. These black marks aid in keeping the bright sunlight out of their eyes while they hunt during daylight hours. The reserve management use the patterns on the side of the cheetah to identify individuals which enables them to know exactly how many cheetahs are in the reserve. From a side photo of a cheetah, one can identify patterns and markings which will always be different in each individual. The barring on the tail of a cheetah is also a great way to identify individuals.
The numbers of cheetah in the wild have reduced over the years as man and cheetah try and find an amicable way of surviving. Cheetahs are unfortunately persecuted on farm lands as they are responsible for a large number of stock deaths on farmer’s lands. Cheetah are now listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List which makes conservation of these magnificent animals a very important part of the reserves duty in conservation.
We have been fortunate to have a number of wonderful cheetah sightings right in front of the lodge. Above is a picture of a cheetah walking past the lodge early one morning just as we were about to set off on game drive. The picture was captured on a motion sensor camera which is placed at the water features next to the main lodge. We followed this male cheetah once he left the front of the lodge and were rewarded with him hunting a group of impala just past the lodges’ fire break. Unfortunately for him he was not successful on his hunt, but the sighting was one we won’t forget for a long time.
Now that the grass plains in front of the lodge have been burnt in a recent fire, we hope to see a number of cheetah moving through the area in the coming months as the summer rains bring with them new grass shoots, which in turn will attract animals to the area that the cheetah will not be able to pass by.
With conservation plans and efforts in place to protect the cheetah, we can only hope that this magnificent animal, who hunts the plains by day, will be here for many years to come.