All the signs were there. We had strong signal for Ketswiri, our resident female cheetah, pointing just the other side of a dry river bed. A tree squirrel was incessantly voicing its alarm. We knew that Ketswiri was hungry from the last time we’d seen her. Were we going to see her on the hunt?
Suddenly, just beyond the bushes, there was a crack of a branch, a short snort from a Wildebeest and a thunder of feet… followed by a bellowing scream not three seconds later. “She’s just made a kill!”
Walking carefully through the river bed and up over the crest of the opposite bank, we stumbled on a clearing. Just in the tree line sat Ketswiri, her canines clasped onto the neck of an Impala fawn. Keeping our distance, we waited four more minutes until she had sensed the Impala die in her grip. Dropping it limply, Ket’s moved to the shade of the nearest tree to catch her breath. Within a few minutes she returned to her prize and began feeding from its soft underbelly.
It wasn’t until a little while later, as our adrenaline levels started to subside, that we noticed the massive scuff marks by our feet. These marks led straight up to the feeding cheetah – these were the tracks of a cheetah making a kill!
By back-tracking the sequence, we were able to picture the entyre hunt. Around 90 metres away, the tracks began to pick up pace as Ketswiri burst out of the bushes on the edge of the clearing. This was where she changed from a stalk to a sprint. The stride is typical of a Cheetah at full tilt – alternate strides compared to the typical walking gait and a stride length of around 8 metres!
As the Impala ran toward the opposite end of the narrow clearing, it took a sharp turn to its right. Ketswiri, using her tail and fixed claws, was able to more than match the change in direction and cut the corner to catch up.
Making a last ditch turn toward the tree line, the impala caused a dramatic change in direction from the Cheetah – evident from the very deep and sliding tracks…
These tracks all led to a huge patch of disturbed top soil and ripped up grass. This was where the Cheetah made impact with her prey.
The pair’s momentum took them another 6 metres or so before Ketswiri was able to manoeuvre her jaws onto the Impala’s neck. A lack of a drag mark suggested we found her exactly where she secured her killer grip.
While we all thought to ourselves, if only we had been at the scene 5 minutes earlier, we may have seen the kill! Or perhaps, we would have ruined the hunt for her… However, we can only be grateful for the privilege of having a wild cheetah accept us into her world – especially when she is at her most vulnerable with a fresh kill.
Limpopo and KZN Program Coordinator
GVI South Africa