Social games like catch-up are very important for developing and improving hunting skills in young cheetahs. Often, mothers also take part, playing the role of victim. As a result, young at an early age can catch small prey on their own and provide themselves with food when large game is not available. Six-year-old Rosetta is raising her first litter. Out of five cubs in four months only three survived, and Rosetta is doing her best to ensure that the offspring grow up healthy and developed excellent survival skills. Between large mother’s hunts, 5-months old youngsters catch hares, which helps not only to satisfy their hunger a little, but also to keep fit. Even when Rosetta was limping on her front foot, she successfully hunted adult antelopes, so the whole family was getting enough food.
Raising babies is not an easy task for cheetah females: they have to regularly hunt and feed the young, train them to hunt and protect their prey on their own. And most importantly, females have to protect their cubs from various predators, including conspecifics. There are cases when males not only attack females, but also kill their offspring. Mating with several males reduces the risk of male killing young during unexpected encounters of partners. Today, by patrolling the territory, the Fast Five coalition clashed with Nora. Her two-month-old cub showed courage in defending itself from approaching males — he howled loudly, hissed and growled at them. Although the males attacked Nora, they did not touch her only cub. In the past, Nora mated with co-leader of this coalition, and perhaps not just with him alone. Having surveyed the family’s resting places, the males were convinced of Nora’s reproductive status and left her alone. Nora led the cub away and in less than an hour successfully hunted the Thompson gazelle. The family enjoyed good meal before the storm.
Some cheetahs are territorial while others are nomadic. Male cheetah coalitions manage to hold territories, whereas singletons become floaters, covering large areas. From time to time the balance of power changes, and new strong coalitions force out old males and singletons. In some areas of the Mara, coalition has successfully shared territory with single males, alternating visits to certain areas. At Sopa, two males – Kisaru and Kingamu have been holding the area from July 2016. After Kingamu disappeared in 2018, it became difficult for the remaining male (who had a serious eye injury) to hold a territory. As a result, by the end of 2018, this coalition has been replaced by a new coalition of two young males, who came from Serengeti. In addition, in December 2018, a new very shy adult male started exploring Sopa area. This increases the chances of the Mara females to choose partners for breeding.
Cheetahs in heat cover vast areas leaving scent marks on the elevated objects for the possible partners. These “messages” pass information about their reproductive status and encourage males to look for the mate if the female is in estrus. Encounters with the males also induce estrus in cheetah females, and even if the first encounter would not end up with mating, the next one might be successful for the partners. Recently, two Lemai Boys encountered Imani, who had crossed the river to the Triangle side for the first time since October 2013! Five years ago, soon after Anani had left her cubs (Imani, Hodari and his brother), siblings crossed the Mara River and started exploring the Triangle. Since that time, Hodari used to visit triangle once in a few months, while Imani was roaming in the Reserve, surrounding Conservancies and northern part of Serengeti. This time, Imani encountered two Lemai boys, who held her trapped for two days. It is not yet known if they mated with Imani, but if she was not in heat at that time, she might come into estrus soon and mate with them or with another male – Olope, whose territory covers a part of the Reserve and the Triangle. The morning female escaped from the male coalition, Olope was running feverishly at the same area calling intensively until he attracted attention of Lemal Boys. After chasing him far away, they started marking trees indicating their presence in the territory they control. Future observations will reveal if Imani’s encounter with the males in the Triangle was successful.