Cheetah Hunting Tactics


Hunting of a cheetah group is a complex process, which includes two interconnected conditions – coordination of actions of coalition members and the adequate space for it. Before hunting, cheetahs scan the area for other predators and rarely hunt if they spot any. Through hunting experience, predators learn behavior of a frightened prey, but cannot predict movements of vehicles. To start the chase, group members (for example, Tano Bora) must be sure that nothing will stop them from completing the hunt. Therefore, often when they see a car behind prey, the males cancel the hunt and change direction. Tano Bora (Fast Five) males apply different tactics: 1) one male initiates the hunt and after a short delay, others (one to four) participate in a chase, 2) two/three members chase different ungulates and once one of them succeeds, all males joint the hunter to take down an antelope; or 3) two/three males chase different antelopes contemporaneously and each ( usually two) make kills at a considerable distance from each other. The latter is advantageous particularly if kills are small and cannot provide enough provision for all members, or if kleptoparasites (e.g. hyenas) are in the area. Having lost one prey, coalitionmates retain another.


Kisaru is raising her first litter


The Mara guides named this young female Kisaru (The One who Helps, in Maa) for her incredible care for her sister Busara during almost six month after their mother Amani had left them. Now she lives up to her name, taking care of her six cubs. To make sure cubs will not interfere with the hunt cheetah mothers leave them behind sleeping deeply after nursing. When cubs are small, sometimes mothers travel for several kilometers and after successful hunt, come back to the den by a different route. After cubs began eating solid food, mothers also prefer leaving cubs behind and hunt available prey in a few hundred meters from them. In all cases, mothers have to feel secure while hunting, expecting that nobody will wake up their offspring. Mother calls the cubs only after she had suffocated the prey, and if there is nobody in between her and the offspring, the latter will join the mother shortly. Raising her litter in the remote conservancies, Kisaru has to secure it from other predators, teaching offspring survival strategies. When hyena appeared at a short distance from the family feeding on the gazelle, Kisaru decided to stay until the kleptoparasite started approaching the kill. By keep eating, she was attracting attention of a hyena to the food and not to her cubs, who raced off to the field. Just before running to join her cubs, Kisaru slapped the hyena. The bigger the cubs grow, the more often Kisaru has to hunt and more difficult it becomes to secure her litter and food, and the more careful we have to be with this unique family.


Cheetah castling


Just as it is more difficult for single cheetah males to establish and defend their territories if there are male coalitions in the area, it is more difficult for smaller coalitions in presence of a large coalition. However, to maintain the genetic diversity of the population, participation in the reproduction of as many unrelated males as possible is necessary. Therefore, single males, like members of small coalitions, use every opportunity to explore the territory of competitors in their absence because encounters of coalitions may be fatal. When the Tano Bora males left the Reserve for Olare-Motorogi conservancy, Sopa males came to a part of their territory near Kikorok. And last evening they headed back towards Sopa, which turned out on time, since today the Tano Bora has returned from the OMC to the Reserve.


Amani with Tano Bora


Cheetah males and females’ territories overlap, allowing individuals meeting for courtship. Females with sub-adult cubs come into estrus and can mate with a single male or with multiple partners. Cheetah females are induced ovulators, i.e. they need external incentive to stimulate estrus. Meeting the male conspecifics and their interest is one of the strongest stimuli. Amani – the most successful cheetah female in the Mara has been raising the third litter in the Mara North and Lemek conservancies. In order to acquaint her cubs with different types of environments, prey and competitor species, Amani takes each litter through the Ecosystem, including the Maasai Mara National Reserve. I the beginning of September, Amani brought her thee cubs into the reserve for several days, and then appeared again in the middle of September. At that time, she came across the male coalition Tano Bora, who have been holding her hostage for three days. Amani’s cubs were hunting in 1-2 kilometers. Shortly before noon on the third day, when the males have lost interest in the female, and one by one left her to hunt, Amani slipped away and began to search for her offspring, calling them. She went to the area where she had last seen them and met a hungry hyena and heavy rain on the way. Seven hours later, she finally teamed up with her cubs. The male cub was keep trying to mount the mother a few times – that is how cubs meet lost siblings. This behavior could be triggered by the release of hormones that the young male felt in the adult female in heat. Time will reveal if Amani mated successfully.