HAPPY INTERNATIONAL CHEETAH DAY

12/04/2020

4th December – INTERNATIONAL CHEETAH DAY. Today, only 7100 cheetahs remain in the wild, and their number is steadily declining. Apart from global issues driving cheetahs to extinction, each ecosystem has its own local challenges, where only the fittest survive. Most of cheetah cubs – 75% die within first 3 month, and only 7-15% of the cubs reach independence. It is critical to genetic diversity that surviving offspring are born of different pairs. Therefore, every litter is important, even if eventually only one cub survives. Last year, one of the females – Siligi, who spends most of her life in Serengeti, surprised us with appearing with her 7 cubs – the largest number documented in the Mara. In half a year, she had only one cub.
Our Project team works closely with the Narok county rangers and Kenya Wildlife Service officers, with assistance of local tour guides, doing everything to keep Mara cheetah population self-sustainable, and individuals, especially mothers with cubs, undisturbed. In the highly visited parts of the Reserve, together with rangers, we close areas with cheetah dens until cubs start following their mothers in their way of exploring the ecosystem. Undisturbed by humans, females can better perform their duties, detect potential danger and act accordingly, and cubs learn survival strategies by watching their mother’s behavior.
Mara is one of a few wilderness-unfenced areas in Africa, which holds relatively stable free roaming cheetah population, and for the species’ survival is essential to preserve and maintain the ecosystem and all its components, including local communities. Let’s do it together!



NASHIPAI – CHALLENGES OF MOTHERHOOD (Part II)

11/25/2020

Every day cheetah cubs encounter with many inhabitants of the savanna and learn survival strategies by watching their mother’s behavior. Often, jackals and warthogs are the first to approach the prey of a cheetah. While the cubs are small, the female drives away intruders, but as they grow older, young themselves begin to drive them away. However, when the warthogs are close by, cubs remain near the mother – adult warthogs are dangerous to cheetah cubs. Encounter with conspecifics can be life-threatening. There were cases when male cheetahs killed cubs. In the Mara, the Tano Bora coalition periodically meet different females as their home ranges overlap. Over the past 3.5 months, Nashipai faced this coalition three times, and each time not all males were friendly, although they fought mostly among themselves. Interestingly, the former leader of the coalition Olpadan several times showed aggression towards Nashipai, while two males – Olonyok (repeatedly mated with Nashipai) and Olarishani (the peacemaker) stood up for her. Males showed curiosity about cubs. Every time scenario of the encounter was the same: after realizing that female was not receptive, males were losing interest in her and leaving. However, once the female was trying to escape, they were coming back surrounding her. Typically, for the third time, the males left the female completely and went far.

                                         



NASHIPAI – CHALLENGES OF MOTHERHOOD (Part I)

10/18/2020

The size of a cheetah is largely determined by the quality of its nutrition during infancy. The more food the cubs get, the faster they gain weight and strength. For females desire to feed the litter is a priority and a powerful motivation to the hunt. Having caught the prey, the female gives the offspring the opportunity to get enough and only then begins to eat herself. If the prey is small, the female eats a little in order to maintain interest in hunting again. Milk production in females also depends on the quality of her nutrition. For 4 days, Nashipai tried to hunt, making more than 10 attempts in the same area. One ended successfully, but the hyena took the prey. Then the female decided to change the location. Within a few hours, the family covered 12 kilometers and in the evening, the female hunted successfully.
One of the factors contributing to a successful hunt is the lack of disturbance. Cubs, following their mother during the stalking, often interfere with the hunt. Therefore, it is beneficial for the female to leave them behind. After completing the hunt, the female calls the cubs, and at this moment, it is important that there are no cars on their way, and if there are any, it is important that the engines and radio are turned off so that the mother and cubs can hear each other and reunite as soon as possible.

                             



MALES FROM THE MARA TRIANGLE

09/19/2020

Over the past two months, two new males have appeared in the northern part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and both had been spotted before in the Mara Triangle. Outside the Mara, cheetahs are very shy and wary. Such animals are less successful in hunting and courtship in presence of the vehicles. Our long-term studies revealed that to be successful in the Mara, cheetahs have to be tolerant to tour cars, not avoid them, but also not be dependent on them. Both new males, spent most of their life outside of the Mara, and therefore are not yet used to tourists following them. One male – named recently Oloti (“Young Boy” in Maa), was first seen in the Mara Triangle in the beginning of July. Another male – 3-year old son of Naserian and grandson of Kakenya, was born in the Mara Triangle and spent most of his life in Tanzania with his mother and littermates. His mother adopted the son of her sister Naretoi, who have died in November 2018, and for several month, Naserian had two cubs males – her own son and the adopted one. The union did not last long, and by March 2019, Naserian was spotted with her biological son, while adoptee started his independent life in Tanzania. The son of Naserian appeared in the Reserve in the beginning of August 2020. Since then, he has been seen twice with different females – in August with Neema – daughter of Rani, and in September with Imani, who displayed all signs of estrus: rolling, marking and calling for a male. The courtship with experienced female in front of vehicles has become a challenge for the shy male. While Imani was calmly walking close to the cars and crossing roads in between vehicles, shy male was keeping a distance of more than 25 meters from people. Usually, it is a male who takes initiative in mating, follows the female and encourages her to display the right posture for mounting. In case of Naserian’s son, it was 8-year old Imani, who was trying to inspire the male. It is difficult to tell if mating had taken place, but on the third day, Imani was looking for the lost male and calling for him. As there was a pride of lions in the area, the couple could have been separated by these predators, who pose deadly danger for cheetahs. These two single cheetah males from the Mara Triangle, alongside with two male coalitions (Mkali with Mwanga and Ruka with Rafiki), have been roaming in the area, previously occupied by a single male Olchorre, who had to move all the way to the Lemek conservancy. These provides all individuals the opportunity to participate in breeding and enrich Mara cheetah’ genetic pool.

                   



FEMALE CHEETAH ADAPTATIONS

09/05/2020

There are few significant differences in the behavior of single female cheetahs of the Mara and females with cubs. Solitary cheetahs often eat where they hunted, for example in an open field, even if they drag the prey several meters away. Female with offspring prioritizes cubs’ safety and therefore tries to hide while eating. Females that are tolerant to the presence of cars attempt to drag a kill under the nearest vehicle. The reason for this is not hot weather and bright sun, but the need to hide prey from potential kleptoparasites. Since a female with cubs can spend more than 6 hours feeding on the same carcass, a car is not the best form of protection. In addition, cubs should learn from their mother to solve such a problem using natural resources. The most effective solution is to hide a kill under a bush, which provides the family with shadow and cover from prying eyes for several hours. Two-year-old Kweli – a young and strong mother drags the carcass 50-100 meters to the nearest bush. Her mother – the most successful female in Mara Amani, did the same. If there are no bushes in the field, the female can drag the carcass into a deepening in the soil or a tuft of taller grass. So that the carcass does not attract the attention of birds of prey from the air, the female also bury the carcass with grass and lies nearby. Meat sun-dries, and the family returns to feed several times within a few hours. It is important to keep a distance from females with cubs when they are feeding, giving them opportunity to detect any potential danger and give a female the way to the nearest bushes to hide with a kill. Solitary females often spend most of the day resting in a shade and become active after sunset. Females with cubs start looking for a safe place to sleep around 17.00 and prefer an open field with a good view far from the roads. If not disturbed (by predators, rain etc.), the family can spend the whole night at the same spot. Kweli is brave and protective – during one week, she has chased from her cubs not only warthogs but more over – in four cases – a hyena!