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!

                         



RANI – EXPERIENCED SURVIVOR

08/09/2020

The maximum age of cheetahs in the Mara is 11 years for males and 13 for females. Rani (daughter of the famous Shakira) is one of the oldest females, who turned 12 this year. To date, Rani successfully raised only one litter – a male (who disappeared soon after littermales split) and two females: Neema and Nashipai. If the cheetah has health problems (e.g. injury, trauma, wound, dislocation), we monitor whether the animal can take care of itself – successfully hunt and avoid danger. Nature is the best manager, and it is better not to interfere. This was recently proved by Rani. When walking, she did not limp, but she experienced obvious discomfort when sitting or lying down, trying not to lean on her right hind leg. Despite having a problem for several days, she hunted successfully yesterday. Since the antelopes were higher up the slope, the female has adopted a smart strategy – she walked around the group of antelopes and, under the cover of bushes, approached them at a minimum distance, thereby reducing efforts of the chase.

         



NASHIPAI RAISES CUBS

07/17/2020

Cheetah females while growing litter, go hunting at distances between 3-10 kilometers from the den. The more cubs in the litter the less milk the female has, the sooner she begins to introduce solid food to the cubs. Prior to leaving the cubs in the bushes or in the grass, the female nurses them. Cubs fall asleep thus do not interfere while the female is hunting. With age, the cubs become more active and it becomes more difficult for the female to leave them for a long time. Waking up, they can start calling for their mother and thereby attract the attention of other predators, which can cost them their lives. For several months, animals (including carnivores) were accustomed to the absence of cars in the Reserve; for example, a female cheetah left cubs in a field with tall grass when going to hunt. Now animals will have to adapt to the appearance of numerous cars in the park.
July brought a pleasant surprise – the five-year-old daughter of Rani – Nashipai appeared in the Reserve with two 2.5-month-old cubs (male and female). This event is of particular importance, since this female after an accident in 2017 gave birth several times but could not feed her cubs. There was a hypothesis of apogalactia (complete absence of milk in females after delivery) or hypogalactia (insufficient milk production) which would have excluded this female from the contributors to the genetic diversity of the Mara cheetah population. The last months revealed that the cubs feed on milk and judging by the fact that they do not compete for nipples, the female has enough milk. This fact is critically important because the female can now be considered a potential contributor to the cheetah population in the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem. In recent days, the female hunted at a distance of 300 m to 3 kilometers from the cubs, sometimes leaving them in the open grasslands far from roads. In recent months, all side roads became covered with thick grass and are now poorly visible. Not only do animals actively use them for movement but also for rest, thus this puts them at high risks of danger. As tourism resumes in the Mara, it is now extremely important to be especially careful when traveling through the savannah.

                       



NEW MALE IN THE RESERVE – THE SON OF ENTITO

06/22/2020

Out of all cheetahs over one year of age, who have been observed in the Mara Ecosystem in 2018-2019, 24% (7 males and 14 females) use territories of the conservancies and Serengeti National Park, and have never been seen in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It is not surprising that the number of females is twice as large – males, especially single individuals, cover large areas in search of suitable and safe habitats and females, and therefore visit the Reserve, surrounding conservancies and neighboring Serengeti. Some cheetah females never show up in the Reserve, but their offspring when become independent, visit its territory. Female Entito has never been spotter in the Reserve, but her cubs started exploring its territory soon after the mother had left them. In early September 2019, we observed three adolescents – two males and a female roaming together. Siblings stay together from a few days to several months, after which young females leave the brothers. By March 2020, only one male was remaining out of the trio. Life of singletons is more difficult than of males in coalitions. To succeed, young single male has two options – to join a coalition or avoid meeting with groups. In the end of March, when Rosetta’s siblings (Ruka, Rafiki and Risasi) spotted him and started approaching, he preferred to run away. Although Entito’s son is older than Rosetta’s cubs, there is a chance that he might join them after Rosetta’s sons split with their sister Risasi.