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July vols finish with flying colours…

By 5 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN

Final week Karongwe volunteers were treated to one of nature’s finest spectacles – witnessing the fastest land mammal on earth taking down its prey right before their eyes. The full stalk, chase, take down and even a brave attempt at a counter-attack from conspecifics was witnessed at close-quarters.
A coalition of two male cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) routinely followed by GVI were located relaxing within one of their regular hunting grounds – the two males were stretched out ‘flatcat’ in the middle of the road. Things soon livened up, however, when one of the males appeared to get the scent of something and body language changed immediately. Stealth mode on, the two cheetahs stalked briskly down the road to reveal an unsuspecting sounder of southern warthog (Phacochoerus africanus sundevallii) foraging in the short grass along the road verges.
As the males closed in; they crept lower and lower to the ground, clearly indicating their intentions to the onlookers who waited with baited breath. The experience of the coalition showed as they set their trap and waited patiently for the warthogs to make the first false move. Initially the warthog sounder remained vigilant and tension built, but the second their guard was lowered the cheetahs wasted no time in kicking back the dust and springing into action.
Photo Credit: Hayley Mussman

With one remaining in the road, the other shot into the bush, blundering into the middle of the sounder, creating panic and causing them to scatter in all directions. At first, surprise got the better of the hogs who were unable to plan an escape and for a few moments the cheetah and warthogs ran circles around one another, reluctant to break their ranks between adult and offspring.
Eventually the cheetahs’ strategy began to reveal itself as a warthog was flushed out into the open, straight across the path of the roadside-poised cheetah. The first escapee was possibly ignored due to its size, the fact that easier targets remained in sight, or perhaps the angle of escape was well calculated. Whatever the case, the next was not nearly so lucky – a slightly smaller individual, noticing its peer’s good fortune, made a similar bid for freedom in the same direction, but this time the escape was cut short by the cheetah maintaining a roadside ambush.
The cat who had initiated the chase, which up until that moment had merely been cruising, sensed the crucial timing and cut sharply back into the road and closed the gap within seconds. The squealing hog was slammed down to the ground with one powerful downstroke from the forelimbs and an unforgiving grip aided by the dew claws. This immediately drew the attention of the rest of the sounder whose family instincts inspired them to band together and attempt a last-ditch effort to rescue their relative. 
Photo Credit: Hayley Mussman

They bravely advanced with their heads lowered and sharp tusks cocked viciously. However, the warthogs were up against a determined coalition not a lone individual. The free cheetah was quick to rush to the aid of his pre-occupied brother, and with teeth bared and hackles raised the hogs were quick to get the message and rapidly returned the way they had come. Thereafter, they could only watch from a distance as one of their kin was carried away in the mouths of both cheetahs. 
It was all too late to contemplate another counter-attack; the cheetahs had already made their kill.
Photo Credit: Hayley Mussman
Written by Jamie Sangster, 
Conservation Coordinator, 
GVI Wildlife Research Karongwe
If you want to read about another of Jamie’s rare sightings read this previous blog post: Hangin’ with a Pangolin