There comes a time in the African bush when the harsh brutality of life on the plains of Africa shows its face and these glimpses can be extremely painful to watch.
I was driving Johan and his wife Katrien, who had had an eventful few days with us but little did we know that on their final drive, Mother Nature would reveal herself in a way that few people have ever witnessed. We were following a female cheetah and her sub adult cubs when a steenbok gave away its position and sprinted out of the undergrowth. The mother took off in pursuit quickly followed by Johan, Katrien, myself and our tracker Petro who was gesturing for me to go quicker not to miss a potential kill. Our Land Rover made for the direction that they were headed with our hearts beating in anticipation. As we made our way onto the open area, we witnessed what was unfolding. The cheetah mother was teaching her youngsters the art of killing and how to hunt, and was taking a back seat and was letting the inexperienced hunters take control. Like all predators there is a natural instinct to pursue whatever runs away from them but the ability to make a swift kill is something that needs to be learnt. This will first be done by watching their mother, with every kill technique burnt into their memory, but doing it themselves is something that every predator has to go through-an initiation into a group of apex killers.
The sub adult cubs would repeatedly chase and capture with the characteristic ankle tap being employed regularly to throw the steenbok off balance. One of the cubs started to show signs of how to kill by going for the throat to suffocate the prey but was a little naive on how to do this and for how long. Eventually the mother lost patience and started to eat from the hind quarters sending the steenbok into shock and eventual death.
What may seem cruel, is in fact a necessary death – the experience gained by the cubs was invaluable and will allow them to develop into killing machines. These cats are classified as endangered and this cheetah mother is doing all she can to not only ensure the survival of her two cubs, but also a species. Little did we know that there was more to come in this chapter – keep an eye out for part 2 of this epic sighting written by one of our Bush Lodge rangers, Simon Smit.