Cheetah is the most social feline after the lion. Despite the fact that cheetahs have been studied intensively since the late 1960s, we continue to discover mysteries about these unique animals. We are happy to share what we have learnt about cheetah male coalitions and especially the most famous one called the Fast Five (Tano Bora). Find answers to the most intriguing questions in a recent article by Dr. Elena Chelysheva “Brotherhood of Strangers” in the SWARA magazine of the East African Wildlife Society.

Selenkei’s lessons

Traveling through the ecosystem, female cheetahs acquaint cubs with different habitats and teach offspring survival strategies. Cubs are learning by watching behavioral responses of their mothers to different external stimuli, e.g. approaching of different animals, including warthogs, vultures and hyena. Selenkei (daughter of Imani and granddaughter of Amani) is one of the most successful Mara females, raising a litter of four, passing the knowledge she had gained from her mother Imani. All Selenkei’s young showed obedience and waited patiently while the female hunted 300 meters away. Being strong and confident hunter, Selenkei showed miracles of dexterity, saddling the fully-grown male Impala. The family then spent 7,5 hours near the carcass, periodically feeding. When the family of warthogs arrived, both mothers – carnivore and a herbivore, taught their youngsters behavior in the presence of each other. The warthog family (a mother with two sub-adult piglets) was approaching closer and closer in a spiral, pinching grass and carefully watching predators. Cheetahs also were keeping eyes on a big-tusk warthog female. All those present were ready to react at any moment. Cheetah cubs displayed patience, reading the body language of their mother and intruders. After Warthog female had approached cheetahs at six meters, she considered that this was quite enough for a lesson, and led her piglets away. When vultures were approaching the kill, Selenkei was getting up displaying with her posture intension to protect the food. One of the cubs actively protected the meal by chasing the birds a few times. However, when a single hyena appeared on the scene, Selenkei family left the spot.

New young males

Maasai Mara is full of surprises. About once a quarter, we meet a new cheetah: adolescents or adults looking for mates. Some come from unprotected areas bordering Maasai Mara or from the Tanzania. About two months ago, a pair of young shy males appeared in the Reserve on the border with the Serengeti. After spending more than a month at the Sand River area, they began to explore the territory, and by the end of September reached the middle of the reserve – Keekorok. Walking in the direction of the Hammerkop, they risked being driven away by a bigger coalition – the Fast Five. However, these young males have chances to settle down in the Greater Mara.

Rani across the Mara River

Rivers do not form barriers for cheetah movements, and some individuals 5 (4 males and a female) born in the Mara Triangle, after separation from their mothers, cross Mara River and established their territories in the Reserve. Occasionally, they visit the Mara Triangle. Out of two sisters born and raised in the Mara Triangle 10 years ago, one – Rani, at the age of 3 years crossed the Mara River and started exploring the Reserve. At the age of 5, she expanded her territory to the neighboring conservancies and
northern part of the Serengeti. Last year in September, at the age of 9, Rani crossed to the Triangle again and soon mated with a coalition of 2 males, but unfortunately lost the cubs. A few days ago, Rani crossed the Mara River again and now is roaming in the Triangle.

Lucky Rani

Being opportunistic hunters, cheetahs use every chance to catch prey. Tall grass can help a cheetah to approach an antelope at a distance sufficient for a productive attack and can prove a good cover for the opened kill. In such cases, cheetah can stay at a kill for over 6 hours, feeding from the same carcass from time to time. Today, Rani spent several hours feeding on Thompson gazelle in the morning and later, in the evening. When she left with a full belly, vultures appeared on the stage, which patiently waited for their turn. In a minute their feast was interrupted by a hyena, and Rani could watch the action from a safe distance.