Who is Chasing the Wildebeest?

Dear Traveler,

The wildebeest stop for moment in front of our vehicle and look behind them on high alert. The dominant wildebeest bounds out of the trees and the herd begins to stampede away from the vehicle.

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Wildebeest running off into the distance

Shortly afterwards a cheetah pounces from the bush in hot pursuit of the herd.

The herd quickly outsmarts the cheetah and he is left hungry. Tired from the chase the cheetah walks slowly towards the direction in which he came, calling constantly for his brothers.

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Cheetah returning to his brothers after a failed hunt

The call is surprising, sounding more like the chirp of bird than that of a mighty predator. This cheetah is one of the three brothers that reside in the Pilanesberg, and the other two arrive shortly. The cheetahs lay down in the grass and rest from their chase.

Hunting

As you may well be aware the cheetah is known as the fastest animal on land, their slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Cheetahs tend to run in bursts of speed, ranging up to 60-70 mph at full speed. They will chase their prey for only 20-60 seconds. When cheetahs are running, they use their tails to steer their body in different directions similar to that of a rudder on a boat. At full speed the cheetahs stride can be as large as 6-7 metres long with the animal only touch the ground twice in each stride. The cheetah will knock the prey to the ground with a suffocating blow to the animal’s neck. Then, the cheetah will eat every scrap of meat off the animal leaving only bones. This ensures that the bigger carnivores won’t be able to steal the precious kill. Cheetahs tend to hunt smaller hoofed animals such as impala and wildebeest calves with one meal sustaining them for a couple of days.

Cheetahs mainly hang out in open grasslands, using the tall grass for camouflage during hunts. They are diurnal which means they are mostly active during the daytime but will often hunt early morning or evening when the air is cooler. Cheetahs are mostly solitary animals but males will sometimes group together like these gentlemen.

Distinction features

Most notably the cheetah has distinctive tear marks that mark its face. The African folklore about the existence of these marks tells a tragic story of a mother separated from her cubs, causing her to cry in longing for her children. These marks are used as method of reflecting the glare of the sun when they hunt during the day. The marks are also used much a like a sight on a rifle as means to target prey and stay focused while hunting

Unlike other cats, the cheetah has ‘semi non-retractable claws’ which allows traction for when the cheetah is running. The pads on the cheetah’s feet are not soft but feel more like rubber to enhance grip on the African soil.

Another really cool thing about cheetahs is not only do they have spots on their fur but they have spotted skin! The black hair actually grows from these spots creating their beautiful patterned coat.

Reproduction

Cheetahs normally rear large numbers of cubs, ranging between 2-8 per litter. Producing this many offspring is an insurance policy that at least some might reach adulthood. The survival rate of cubs is shockingly poor with only one third surviving to adulthood. This is one of the major reasons why the cheetah is the most endangered cat in Africa with fewer than 10,000 in the wild.

Cheetah cubs have a distinctive animal mohawk or more specially call “mantle” with spiked hair from the head down to the base of the tail. These hairdos are means of helping the cubs to remain concealed in the tall grass.

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Cheetah and cubs, Image by Nick Ward

While the action had died down there had been a constant call in the distance, we look up and notice the not so natural pylon sticking out of the landscape. In the gaps of the structure there is a shadow.

Who is watching from afar?

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All will be revealed on Friday!

Relive the journey: The Journey Begins

Sources:

*all images and gifs are owned by Samantha Smyrke unless otherwise stated
*other images obtained under creative commons license
feature image taken by Emily Burnett
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