Written by Sipho Ntombela (Head ranger)
Most people see cheetahs as the least aggressive of all the big cats in Africa and generally like to avoid confrontations over food with other animals. But when it comes to territorial disputes between rival males, the gloves comes off!
It was a crisp winter morning in our beautiful Zululand and we were on the morning safari when we found two male cheetahs (brothers) near our pumphouse on the Mkuze River. As we got closer we noticed a third male cheetah lying down about 15 metres away from the two brothers.
All the cats looked tired and had bloody spots on them. We quickly realised what was going on here – it was a territorial fight between a dominant coalition of the two brothers against a skilled single male that has always managed to keep out the way of the brothers until today. It was not long before the brothers got up and started attacking the single male again, their intent was clear.
It wasn’t a fair fight with the one brother attacking the underdog’s head and neck while the other was biting him on his back legs and genital area. He was in big trouble and the outcome looked bleak. Territorial fights between male cheetahs can be deadly, especially when a coalition of two or more males works as a team.
Cheetahs are also far more endangered than any of the other big cats in Africa, with the total of wild animals probably not exceeding 11 000 for the whole continent. With this in mind I decided to try and stop the two brothers from killing the single male by shouting at them and banging on the door, but it had no effect.
I was seriously considering using the vehicle to try and stop the fight, but at the same time I realised that I had guests in my vehicle who were witnessing a completely natural event – and I knew that I shouldn’t involve myself in something which occurs in the wild all the time.
The next moment a lioness appeared out of nowhere and charged straight towards the fighting cheetahs!
The lioness was no more than 10 metres away from the cheetahs when the brothers saw her and scattered. The single male cheetah jumped up ran across the river into the reeds and disappeared from view. Lions will instinctively try and kill other predators as they all compete for the same food.
It was a lucky escape for all three cheetahs, but more importantly, it gave the single male a chance to escape and clean up his wounds.
The single male was seen a couple of days later and it did not look like he sustained any life-threatening injuries. This is good news as this male has been earmarked for capture and translocation to another game reserve in Limpopo. It is our intent to try and relocate this male as soon as possible so that he can contribute his genetics to a new population on a different game reserve.
Through the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s meta cheetah population management plan, cheetahs are moved from reserves (where they do well) in order to supplement genetics in other reserves where it is needed in the hope of creating a positive growth in the population.
Watch the video below to see the territorial fight in action.
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