RISASI IN THE MARA TRIANGLE: LESSONS OF SURIVAL FOR THE OFFSPRING

04/22/2023

The Risasi family is one of the few whose pedigree we can trace back to 2001, when we observed her great-grandmother Resy in the reserve. The pedigree may be much richer, but we can trace it only through females. If the female raised only sons, it is difficult to know how many of them left offspring and contributed to the bloodline. Like her ancestors, Risasi spends a significant amount of time in Tanzania. However, Risasi, like her brothers, were the first members of the family to move to the Mara Triangle (Mara Conservancy). Our long-term observations in the Mara Triangle showed that its territory is capable of having up to 10 individual cheetahs during the year, including at least one male coalition. The gradual disappearance of the Lemai Boys coalition from the Triangle by 2021, provided a good opportunity for the two Risasi brothers, Ruka and Rafiki, to settle in the Mara Conservancy. But since they also began to often leave for Tanzania, new males began to appear one after another on the territory of the Triangle: Oloti, Mpaka, and a couple of new very shy males. Of the 4 cubs born in May 2022 in the Triangle, Risasi has unfortunately lost two females and continues to raise two sons. It is very beneficial for young males to be in partnership and learn to work together. Whenever possible, the mother teaches the future coalition how to hunt and how to behave in the presence of powerful predators. Cubs can hone their hunting skills while playing together with the female and with each other, as well as on the fawns of antelopes. The sooner the cubs learn to successfully kill prey and respond adequately to the presence of predators (lions and hyenas), the higher their chances of survival will be. Mara Triangle



TANO BORA UPDATES: WHEN INTERACTIONS WITH HYENAS DO NOT HARM

04/12/2023

Despite the fact that the Tano Bora remained today in the territory of one of the largest hyena clans in the Mara, they managed not only to hunt successfully, but also to eat the largest part of the prey. Cheetahs in the Mara hunt at any time of the day, and in the hottest hours no less than in the morning or evening hours. Today they caught prey at about 13:00. The first hyena that appeared on the spot had a low status and was driven away from prey, first by males, and then by fellows. But the second hyena, which arrived at the place later, immediately attended the carcass and the males calmly left it to the intruders. Olonyok was the last to leave again. The males left the place with full bellies, and the meal will serve them for two or three days.



THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL or A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE TANO BORA MALES

04/11/2023

Despite the fact that only two out of 5 males remained in the coalition: Winda and Olonyok, we still call them Tano Bora, since this is the name of the largest coalition of cheetah males known in the Mara. The males are now 8.5 years old, which is a critical age as most males don’t reach the age of 4 years. Indeed, life in a group is beneficial to all its members, since the coalition is able to catch big game and share vigilance. However, with age, it becomes more difficult for males to bring down a large antelope, and there is not always enough strength for a long pursuit of medium-sized antelopes. Cheetahs are opportunistic hunters. Therefore, they do not miss the opportunity to catch a hare, fawn or a piglet of a Warthog. If the males are not very hungry, they share small prey, but if they haven’t eaten for a long time, then they eat their prey alone. In just one day, today, Tano Bora encountered a family of warthogs who stumbled upon resting males in a field and chased them twice. Soon after that, Winda caught a hare which he ate alone. It took brothers a few hours to locate appropriate prey, but when they toppled the adult male Topi (which took them 8 minutes from the moment of capture), the hyena appeared. And while Winda continued to choke the antelope, the hyena began to eat. The males remained with the kill, patiently waiting for the opportunity to eat, as they used to share the prey with the hyena before. Winda was the first to give up, while Olonyok made two attempts to get closer to the carcass, but both times he was driven away by uncompromising kleptoparasite. Winda immediately ran to help the brother. Life is certainly more valuable, and both males went into the shade, from where they watched their kill been consumed by over 15 hyenas. Life of cheetahs is full of challenges, and to remain granting the guests with great sightings of their hunts, courtships, marking territory and river crossings, they need more privacy and care than ever before.



NAGOL – CHALLENGES OF INDEPENDENT LIFE

02/02/2023

Nagol – Neema’s two-year-old daughter, Rani’s granddaughter and Shakira’s great-granddaughter, was born in November 2020. From the very beginning of the independent life at the age of 17 months, Nagol turned out to be the most successful hunter of the three Neema’s cubs. After three months of staying together with her brother Noma and sister Nariku, Nagol left her littermates, who remained together for another 2 months. However, even when catching large prey for herself, Nagol did not always had the opportunity to eat the whole carcass, especially if she hunted in the open field. Unlike males, females try to hide prey from kleptoparasites, sometimes dragging it to a distance of more than 50 meters, and hiding it in tall grass or under a bush. Vultures are often the first to notice prey, after which jackals come to the place, followed by hyenas. Jackals, especially if there are several of them, can wait for their turn to eat for a long time, but try to get access to food from time to time. One of the adults tries to distract the cheetah by attacking from behind and biting on the rump or tail. Experienced cheetahs are not distracted from food, but periodically make a throw at the annoying predator. But when a hyena appears, a lone cheetah does not have a chance to save prey, even if jackals detain a stronger competitor at a distance. In the wild, cheetahs experience injuries (eg, external wounds, temporary joint dislocations etc.) for which the cause is often unclear, and the animals generally recover on their own. If the cheetah can move freely and successfully hunt, intervention is not necessary. In rare cases, cheetah has no visible wounds, but cannot move properly, that is cannot escape from predators and get food. Even temporary immobility can cost a cheetah its life. Therefore, it is important to monitor the physical condition of each individual in order to help if necessary. In the end of January, one of the Mara guides informed us that he had found a female who was walking with great difficulty. We found her sleeping in the bush, and within 2 hours she got up only once (by that we identified her as Nagol), and from the manner of her movement (limping on the left front and back legs) it became obvious that she had a problem with the spine of unknown etiology. We immediately reported this to the park authorities and veterinarians, and the necessary assistance was provided to the female. The drug, administered by the KWS Veterinarian with the help of a dart (without immobilization of the animal), had a beneficial effect, and after a 3-hour rest, the female moved noticeably more freely. Over the course of several days of close monitoring, we watched as the stiffness of her limbs disappeared, within 2 days Nagol travelled over 10 km and later hunted successfully on her own. Nagol is a young female and her role in enriching the genetic diversity of the cheetah population of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem cannot be overestimated. We would like to note the vigilance of the guide John Musukut and the well-coordinated work and the fast response of the KWS veterinarian team and in particular Dr. Michael Njoroge (operating on a program SKY VET, sponsored by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and Felix Micheni, Veterinary assistant to the KWS Mara Vet, and the Maasai Mara National Reserve Warden Robert Parmuat, who altogether saved the life of a young cheetah Nagol. Teamwork is the key to success in the conservation of rare species!



KISARU IN COURTSHIP WITH MILELE AND MBILI

01/02/2023

2022 ended with an interesting event: almost 7-year-old Kisaru, mother of two 17-month-old cubs, met two 6.5-year-old males Milele and Mbili. Although the home ranges of cheetahs are large, they overlap, allowing animals of different sexes to meet in the vast field of savannah. Females come into oestrus when they have large cubs, and if the mating was productive, the female stays with her big cubs for another 2 months, and leaves them a month before giving birth. At the time of mating, females usually leave the offspring behind, disappearing with males in secluded places. This provides not only a peaceful environment for courtship, but also the safety of the cubs, since males often display aggression towards young males. Courtship in cheetahs continues for 3 days, after which the males lose interest in the partner. Cheetahs are very secretive animals, and although courtship can often be observed during daytime, mating often occurs at night. Males in coalitions use different tactics to avoid competition: most often, one male disappears with the female for a day or two, after which he returns to the group. Some pairs of males, mate with the same female in turn. After a successful mating, the female usually rolls over her back while the male watches her from the side. Not all matings, however, are so peaceful: sometimes males display violence. This is what recently happened to Kisaru and her sub-adult cubs when Milele and Mbili ran into their family. Cubs ran away, and the trio went into the depths of the forest for 2.5 days. For two days, Kisaru’s daughter was calling for her mother and unsuccessfully tried to find her brother. When she finally succeeded, they both returned to the place where they had last seen their mother. They repeatedly went deep into the thicket, but could not find the mother. Only on the third day, in the early morning, they saw the mother with two males, who were vigilantly watching her, not letting her leave the spot at the edge of the forest. Realizing that their mother was alive, the cubs went hunting and successfully captured an adult male Thomson’s gazelle! The experience passed on by Kisaru, the daughter of the most successful female in the Mara – Amani, was very useful to the young cheetahs. Having lost sight of the cubs, the hungry Kisaru made repeated attempts to elude the males. Eventually, at 13:20, the males left for hunting. Kisaru, however, was in no hurry to leave and kept a close eye on the males, and when they caught the adult Topi, she ran to them! This was, perhaps, the most interesting situation to observe: the female approached the males, who had begun to eat, and poked her head towards the carcass rather confidently, but cautiously. Mbili hit her, but still let her in, and for several minutes the trio ate together, after which the males left the carcass one by one and lay down under a bush 20 meters away, leaving Kisaru to eat alone. After 35 minutes, they returned to the kill and, after several mutual growls, began to eat together. Having had her fill, the female took advantage of the heavy downpour and ran into the field, calling her cubs. The males peacefully finished the carcass and after 3 hours, leaving the vultures only the skin and bones, they left in the opposite direction. Kisaru found the cubs only after 7 days, on December 31st. During these days, the cubs got used to hunting, and the female got food for herself. But still, family ties are strong, and united, all family members take care of each other, because together it is easier to get food, keep vigilant for the danger and learn to survive.