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Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel

The sun at this time of the year in the Waterberg is irresistible and the warmth of it on our backs, coupled with the glass of wine over lunch, kept us all lingering on the deck well after our meal was finished.

But soporific as we all felt, our small party were all on our feet in a split second with the news which Jono brought rather breathlessly, “Two cheetahs have just killed a young impala right in camp!” Not 200m from where we had been having our lunch, two newly independent young male cheetah were this instant just embarking on theirs!

© Megan Emmett

Abandoning the deck and keeping to the cover of the trees skirting the short pathway to the cabins, we snuck closer to the place from where the crunching sound of delicate bones breaking against hungry jaws was emanating. The “boys” hardly lifted an eye in our direction. They were certainly aware of us, just completely disinterested. I held my breath and grinned at person beside me… what a treat!

Aside from the thrill of the cheetah having made their kill right in camp, it’s always just delightful to see these over-specialised predators actually succeed in a hunt and then feed undisturbed. Despite having just killed, they were already feeding voraciously, without the customary period of “breath-catching”. The hunt must have gone their way without too much exertion… this time. Perhaps in the days before, they had more characteristically lost their food to hyenas or lion, too exhausted after the chase and too lightweight to put up much of a defence to trump these bolshie competitors. They were apparently really hungry but in good condition none-the-less.

Cheetah in the waterberg
© Megan Emmett

[quote]The cheetah’s sleek physique and wasp-like waist, athletic legs, long tail and tread-clawed feet enable the speed-machines that cheetahs are known to be[/quote] and yet, although they are not the powerhouses of the super-predators – lion, leopard, hyena – they definitely do have clout of their own. I was surprised in fact, at how sturdy and solid their skulls actually are having rested my outstretched hand on a cheetahs head not so long ago. The crunching bones we were listening to was testament to this as was the fact that by nightfall the brothers had fully consumed and abandoned their kill and our camp.

Cheetah in the waterberg
© Megan Emmett
Cheetah in the waterberg
Megan and cheetah © Megan Emmett

I’m not a big fan of any form of captivity or habituation for wild animals but I had occasion recently to get up rather close to a cheetah recovering from a severe bout of meningitis, on a reserve in south-western Limpopo Province. Having been intensively handled during her treatment, this female cheetah had become so accustomed to her guardian that he could literally open the gate to her boma and she would bound out to meet him for her food and then casually return again once “visiting time” was officially over. On the occasion I visited, she wolfed down her special recuperation brew and then unceremoniously plonked herself at my feet whereupon she began purring loudly. I could not resist giving her head a good scratch – which succeeded in making the purring all the louder – but it was on this occasion that I perceived, with unexpected astonishment, the real solidness of a cheetahs head.

Cheetah in the waterberg
© Megan Emmett

The truth is, behind the mask of sleek elegance and endearing vocalizations, lies an efficient and well-built predator with which every encounter proves a pleasure.

Game Ranger in your Backpack says…

Game Ranger in your backpackCheetahs are predators specialised for speed. Clocking a record speed of 112km/h, they are undoubtedly the fastest land mammals. Generally cheetahs only accelerate up to between 75-100km/h at a full sprint and this lasts only a few hundred metres before they tire. In order to hunt successfully, cheetahs must get close enough to their quarry before embarking on the final sprint and are thus accomplished stalkers.

The cheetah’s tail acts as a rudder to counterbalance the animal when it has to change direction quickly.

Once a kill is made, the cheetah is too exhausted to feed immediately and rests to catch it’s breath first. Prey is eaten where it falls or dragged to nearby shade if possible.

Cheetahs are picky eaters skimming meat neatly off the surface of a carcass.

Cheetahs do not roar in the manner of the larger cats and as such they are in a genus of their own, i.e. Acinonyx. They produce bird-like sounds to keep in contact with their young or to greet one another. When content, cheetahs are known to purr loudly. Under duress they may growl, snarl, hiss, bleat, cough or moan.


Click on the link to listen to the sound of a cheetah purring!


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