On 18th April, CCF released a coalition of four male cheetahs into a soft release camp for them to enhance survival behaviour before being released into the wild
Day 2 of the Scientist’s re-wilding: 19 April 2012
The four males were found quite close to their release site. As the sun came through the densely covered bushes, the cheetahs began to move. At one resting spot, an oblivious female duiker came within 20 m of the coalition. One by one, they became alert of the animal as the duiker drew nearer. Suddenly, Fossey sprinted towards the female in a quick 80 m chase, although unfortunately the hunt was unsuccessful. Later on, the males made a large circle around the release sight, where Fossey and Mendel were seen marking large-trunked Boscia trees, scratching their bases. All four males were then seen hunting an unknown prey species (possibly warthog). Afterwards they came to the water hole, where Fossey and Mendel started to drink. It was a relief that we did not have to worry about them finding water anymore. In the evening, we followed them westerly towards the tumbling sun: an overly successful second day.
Day 3: 20 April 2012
Within minutes of an early start to the morning, three of the four males had Rachel and I running through the bush after them. A hunt led by Mendel, Livingstone and Darwin led us to an amazing sight: Livingstone’s body was pressed tightly between the horns of a massive adult oryx; Darwin was forcefully biting the throat in a proper strangulation hold; Mendel, tripping the back legs of the oryx, constantly biting its hindquarters. The coalition was successfully hunting in cooperation on their third day! Eventually the oryx thrashed the males off one at a time. After 40 minutes of resting, the oryx remained laying in shock. Suddenly the missing Fossey miraculously appeared, silently trotting out of the bush headed directly towards the weakened oryx. His hunt attempt was not the best, as the prey instantly stood up and scared Fossey off. Finally all the cheetahs retreated and the oryx ran away virtually unharmed. The rest of the day the males rested, as it seemed the hunt aspirated all their energy. The two smallest males (Livingstone and Darwin) seemed to be showing the most promising behaviours when it comes to hunting thus far.
Day 4 & 5: 21 & 22 April 2012
Within seconds of finding the coalition, Rachel and I observed the foursome eating away at an adult zebra carcass. Spots consuming stripes, the cheetahs ate away at the hindquarters of their massive kill. Upon further inspection of the zebra, we noticed that there was no sign of a proper neck bite, and later in the day, Dr Laurie Marker paid us a visit and noticed that the zebra’s back left leg was severely injured. These males may have stumbled upon a freshly dead, or slowly dying zebra and instantly began to feast. In the late afternoon a large grouping of giraffes inquisitively watched as the males gorged themselves. The giraffes slowly approached the spectacle and inched closer and closer. The cheetahs were vigilant of these towering mammals, but never strayed from their meal.
Throughout the following day and night the coalition was observed constantly eating the zebra. They ate rather peacefully, but an occasional growl and cheek-bite would occur. One of the males popped the bloated stomach of the carcass, which made a deflating balloon-like sound scaring all of them running. Confused by the loud sound, they gradually made their way back. Deflating the gaseous stomach allowed for easier access to open new areas, as the skin was not as tightly pressed anymore. Darwin and Livingstone were also observed covering the carcass with dead grasses as soon as the stomach popped, masking the emerging putrid odor.
Day 6: 23 April 2012
The coalition was on the move throughout the day, with Fossey, as usual, leading the way. They were marking unchartered territories by spraying and scratching trunks of Boscia trees. They came across warthogs on a road but made no attempt to hunt. By the afternoon monitoring session, Rachel and I found the boys nearly four kilometers from their previously observed spot this morning. They continued to the night following the road, uncovering the unfamiliar corners of Bellebenno game camp. Of all the releases I have done, these males have chartered the longest distances in their first week. With great amounts of skepticism concerning their first meal/kill, we are hoping that they will be able to make another one in the following days.
Day 7: 24 April 2012
This was a day filled with walking, marking and hunting! The Scientists were on the move again, walking virtually a half of Bellebenno’s 4,000 has in one day! It was not until the afternoon when a proper hunt took place. The males emerged from a mid-day’s rest and began walking down the road to our captive females’ pens. Suddenly, all four cheetahs ran, and soon the death cries of an oryx were heard. Rachel and I sprinted upon a sight where Fossey was attempting to take down a sub-adult male oryx. Darwin was biting and successfully opening the thrashing antelope and Livingstone guarded the potential prey victim from us. After nearly five minutes of struggling to get a proper neck-bite on the oryx, Fossey gave up. In stepped Darwin (one of the smallest males), who took down the oryx and followed with a proper strangulation hold killing the oryx quickly. It was a conquering feat in the re-wilding of these males, proving their ability and strength in hunting; they spent the rest of the day and evening indulging on their well deserved, first kill.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the re-wilding project soon!
All the best,
Head of Cheetah Reintroductions