They are sleek and dignified, yet as the fastest land animal on the planet, they are also the Maasai Mara’s most specialised killing machines. Their evolutionary adaptation is sublime. Cheetah’s are magnificent, they can go from 0 km/h to 100 km/h in three seconds and can reach up to 120 km/h. Their acceleration and their ability to change direction at speed is staggering. To achieve this they have thin bodies with a large chest, inside which they have an enlarged heart and lungs, and, unusually, they have semi-retractable claws.
All this adaptation has some negatives though. The Cheetah is smaller and lighter than most other Maasai Mara predators. This leaves them open to being bullied, frequently having to surrender their kill to larger and more aggressive animals – especially those cunning hyenas. They have adapted to this by hunting at different times of day, but they still lose a lot of food to other animals.
Its quite hard to observe them sprinting after pray, but Cheetahs can be seen when they are on the look out for potential prey or sleeping off a good lunch. Despite sitting on a small mound, this majestic looking female cheetah was hard to spot in the long grass. The coloration of her coat was so similar to the colour of the grass that she blended in perfectly.
In isolation she looks as if she is just having a rest and taking in the view. In reality, she was observing this small group of Coke’s Hertebeests. Although it is unlikely that a lone Cheetah could successfully kill the much bigger adult Hertebeest, they were, understandably, behaving quite skittishly.
We came across these very contented looking Cheetahs lying under a tree. According to Joseph, our guide, they were male siblings who hunted together, ate together and slept it off together. I don’t blame them, it was hot in the mid-morning sun and, after all that running around, lying under a tree following a successful hunt seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I’d have been doing it myself if lying under a tree wouldn’t have resulted in death.
Males often form groups together, sometimes for life, while females are solitary and tend to roam over much wider areas than males. Cooperating as a group while hunting probably allows for greater hunting success, and groups of Cheetahs can probably defend their kill more successfully from other predators. Look at the blood-stained fur around the mouths of these Cheetahs…and then look into their eyes!
I was thrilled to see Cheetahs, but over the four days we spent in the Maasai Mara we managed to spot literally dozens of different types of animals. We didn’t manage the whole set of the Big Five, Leopards and Rhinos managed to evade us, but we did see some quite terrifying African Buffalo. Considered to be one of the most dangerous animals for humans, they are intelligent, aggressive, have very short tempers and are highly unpredictable. Just some of the reasons they were considered one of the five most dangerous African animals to hunt, and why they have never been domesticated.
They are also hugely powerful – reaching up to 900 kgs in weight – and those horns can do considerable damage. Unusually, the horns are fused at the base, and this covers the front of their heads in an almost impenetrable protective layer. This comes in handy when the males are bashing their heads together to decide who is dominant in the mating season. The huge horns of adult males are one of the reasons African Buffalos are still hunted by ‘Big Game Hunters’. Their heads probably look quite nice overlooking the dining table.
Our driver kept his distance, and the engine running – just to be on the safe side.