Witnessing a mom giving cheetah hunting lessons to her cheetah cubs is one of my most memorable animal experiences. To be successful hunters, cheetah cubs must learn from their big cat mothers how predator-prey relationships work among Africa’s animals.
Fact: Cheetah is the most endangered African big cat.
Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund estimate there are 10,000 wild cheetah left in all of Africa.
I’ve seen the infamous Serengeti Cheetah brothers hunting, as well as the female cheetah famous for jumping on safari vehicles – although the day I saw her, she was with her cub and not interested in visiting our vehicle. I’ve seen a group of baby cheetah playing with each other, and a cheetah cub playing (unfortunately) with a discarded empty plastic water bottle.
I’ve watched cheetah hunt. One cheetah even carried it’s kill (a small gazelle) to a shady spot by the side of our Land Rover, and ate there, not at all bothered by our presence.
Our driver guide told us, “She is doing this for protection from other predators.” She had adapted to human’s presence so well she was using our vehicles to shield her from the hyenas who will try to steal her kill once they smell it.
Predator Prey School for Cheetah Cubs
Big cats in Africa must master many skills before they can kill.
On one particular day during my most recent trip to Tanzania I witnessed my favorite baby cheetah sighting yet.
From atop a dead acacia, tear marks highlighting her golden eyes, an adult cheetah scans the savannah.
“She’s searching for prey,” my safari guide tells me. “We are about to experience a cheetah hunting.”
A purr-like sound breaks the Serengeti’s dry silence. “She’s calling for her babies.”
On the opposite side of our Land Rover from mom, two cheetah cubs appear out of tall brown grass.
With some difficulty the young cheetah climb up next to mom as she resumes scanning for prey.
If this is the first lesson in Cheetah Hunting: How to Scan for Prey, the cubs appear oblivious, instead concentrating on maintaining their balance atop the fallen tree trunk while playing with each others tails.
Predator Prey Cheetah Hunt Lesson #2
Eyeing a lone gazelle, mom jumps from the tree, crouching low.
The cheetah cubs immediately sense something, without missing a cue, they instinctually assemble into a ruler straight line behind mom, following her every move.
Looking like one svelte spotted predator – not three – the cheetah line proceeds toward their targeted prey.
Calm and confident, the cheetah’s twelve legs move in a synchronized stalking rhythm.
The gazelle detects danger, sniffing the air and scanning nervously, but hasn’t seen the cheetah trio.
Now as close as they can be to the gazelle without being noticed, the cats stop.
Still in a perfectly straight line – one cub behind the other, both behind mom – they remain, still as sand, ready.
The gazelle looks down at the ground. Big mistake I think, and hold my breath.
Mom seizes the moment… but with only a half -hearted sprint, baby cheetahs in tow, as the gazelle leaps away through the tall grass.
A+ for both cheetah cubs in today’s Cheetah Hunting class
“Today’s lesson was in mastering the art of stalking, not killing,” our guide tells us.
Apparently they will have many more such hunting lessons – all part of growing up to be successful big African cats.
I don’t have a photo to share of this extraordinary experience I witnessed with the cheetah cubs because I like to think the rest of the group, like me, was so engrossed in what we were seeing we forgot to think about capturing the cheetah hunting on film for later.
Do you have a memorable baby cheetah story to share in the comments below?
If you haven’t been to Africa, which of the African big cats would you most like to see in the wild?
JOIN OUR TRIBE – USE THE BOX TO THE RIGHT OF THIS POST.