A three male Cheetah coalition should be a formidable hunting machine but like humans, they need to communicate upfront on the strategy required. Nearly four hours before the hunting attempt they did a 360-degree scan of the Ngorongoro plains littered with vast numbers of White-bearded Wildebeest. As it was midday and very hot they flopped down in the same position as they were standing, disappearing on the spot. As the hours passed the wildebeest herds that actually spotted the Cheetahs earlier forgot about them and started moving at them in a straight line with a lot of calves not even a week old. Surely the kill was on, it was a given!
My driver/field guide, Wasiri, and I planned everything meticulously. Our vehicle was the only one on the scene. What a bargain! Off-road driving is allowed in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where most of the calving and lambing on the migration route takes place so we parked the CNP photography vehicle behind the prey, with the sun setting behind us. Man, we were all ready! There was no other prey in sight so our 4 hours of patience had to be rewarded. We were virtually congratulating ourselves on taking award-winning photographs. Problem was that we overestimated the Cheetahs hunting prowess and we underestimated the cunningness of the two wildebeest cows whose very young calves surely had to be the target.
The fact that our famous Cheetahs never actually stalked their potential prey allowed for some crucial extra split seconds for the wildebeest to go into flight mode, as the closest male to the approaching wildebeest jumped up before darting off in the wildebeest’s direction. Have a look at image 4 and how close the adult cow is to the Cheetah. (I’m shooting with an 800mm lens and have enough depth of field on both cheetah and wildebeest)
The closeness of the Cheetah to the adult wildebeest makes the Cheetah hesitate for a second too long allowing enough time for all to get away! Two hunting blunders in short succession! So what about the other two Cheetahs? By the time they realised their mate is going at something, they jumped up looking in different directions before turning to the action! Just in time to see a failed hunt!
Last week I shared with you some images of a female Cheetah’s failed hunting attempt of a Marabu Stork and this week it is the horror story of a coalition of three male Cheetahs getting it badly wrong. Although the brutal reality of the Cheetah species’ struggle for survival is still dominated by death caused by other predators such lions (predominantly), hyenas and occasionally leopard (and man of course) these two hunting failures reminded me of another reality – it is just not that easy after all! Wildlife species, be it mammals or birds just do not like being killed!
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area must rate as arguably the best Cheetah destination and more specifically during the annual wildebeest calving season Jan to March every year. I will be there again next year to photograph the magic, so why not join me? Please contact me or the CNP back office.
Warm photography regards,