We’re just over halfway through our Photographer of the Year 2018 and every day we are receiving fantastic entries of African wildlife, landscapes and culture. Elena Chelysheva, from Mara-Meru Cheetah Project, sent in photos of a unique sighting of mating cheetahs in Kenya. She now shares with us this amazing wildlife encounter that she managed to capture on camera.
Written, and photographs, by Elena Chelysheva – Project Founder and Principal Investigator of Mara-Meru Cheetah Project
In the last days of December 2016, a coalition of five males appeared in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya from one of the adjacent conservancies. It was the largest cheetah male coalition ever observed in the Mara and they were named the ‘Fast Five’.
Within a few next months, one of the smallest males became not only one of the biggest, but also the decision-maker and ‘first’ leader of the group. There was clearly a hierarchy in the group, and since July 2017 two apparent leaders emerged, with a ‘second’ leader playing more of a peacemaker role – often standing up for bullied males and fighting against the first leader.
It is extremely difficult to witness cheetahs mating in the wild as they shy, and although they display courtship behaviour during the daytime the actual mating takes place at night.
The key to successful mating is avoiding the competition, and in some Mara cheetah male coalitions, brothers split for the time of courtship so that only one gets a chance to mate, or males take turns with the same female. In the case of a big coalition, chances to escape with a female are low.
On 19 December 2017, the four males (without the first leader) encountered the five-year-old female called Nora.
The second leader used his chance with Nora when the other three went hunting, following her when she started moving off. As he approached her, she took the posture for mating – crouching and pulling the tail aside – and he immediately mounted her. While copulation was in process, the three other males returned, and when noticing what was going on rushed to the mating couple to participate.
After a while, and once things had calmed down a bit, Nora started enthusiastically rolling over – an indication of a successful mating.
Unfortunately, soon after that a lioness appeared in the distance, attracted by the cheetahs’ vocalisations. The cheetahs dispersed and the males lost visual contact with Nora, who they tried to locate into the night, calling loudly for her return.