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Kenya: an unusual sighting

We had just left Borana lodge on foot with the intention of walking a small valley through which we knew lions had recently passed. Not 15 minutes in and we heard what sounded a lot like a cheetah in distress. Gaining elevation to try and see what was going on, we eventually caught a glimpse of a young cheetah staring back at us. She was understandably a little uneasy, because of our presence I thought. She moved behind a thicket and we repositioned to find her mother feeding on a freshly killed impala. We were around 75m away. I figured they would be far more relaxed if we were in a vehicle so we went back to the lodge and fetched one.

I had seen this pair before, they were totally chilled with vehicles and the cub has a reputation for being playfully cheeky. Suddenly, a huge male cheetah got up from the very same thicket. We had simply not seen him. His spotted coat is the perfect camouflage. I had never seen a male and female cheetah interact over prey before! They usually avoid each other unless to mate. I have seen males be physically aggressive towards females and their cubs when there clearly isn’t a chance to mate, but these encounters are not fatal.

The mother was quick to make her submissive chirps. After all, the male is much bigger than her and the cub. The male, as you can see approached slowly with an aggressive yet also careful attitude. What on earth was going on?

I have never heard or read of cheetahs scavenging off each other. If that’s the case here, who scavenged off whom? Surely it wasn’t the female taking a chance – but then the male had definitely eaten more, judging by his distended belly.

Perhaps the female is in oestrus. Her cub is getting to an age where she should be close to independence. Were the male and female courting when one of them made a kill? Unlike lions and leopards, cheetahs don’t associate with each other for a number of days – mating takes place quickly and they go their separate ways.

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Annemi Zaaiman

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