Three new cheetah cubs on Mashatu!

Cheetah cub - Aliénor Brassine

Cheetah cub with it's mother - Aliénor Brassine

There are three new cheetah cubs on Mashatu! Our proud mother that successfully raised five cubs from her last litter, and has returned after over three months of absence. After being off the radar for over two months, I became worried about her whereabouts With the help of guests who were staying at Mashatu Main Camp, we flew over NOTUGRE in the hope of picking up the radio signal from her collar. So off we went with my tracking equipment to fly over 72 000 hectares to find the missing cheetah! We removed the doors of the plane so that I could stick my aerial out. After covering almost the entire Northern Tuli Game Reserve, we finally picked up her signal just west of the Motloutse River.

The following day I tracked her from a vehicle. I met with the manager of the reserve and with the help of a tracker/guide we set off looking for the missing cheetah. This was about 12h30. We headed straight for Eagle’s rock ridge, close to where we had picked up the strongest signal while flying over the area. We climbed the rocky ridge to try pick up her signal. I only heard what seemed like a very feint signal so, going with my intuition, we headed in that direction to climb another hill. Luckily it was not just my imagination, as the next hill there was a definite ‘beep’. Unfortunately it was in the direction of the boundary of the reserve, and also in an area very thick with Mopane bushes.

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Female cheetah with her tracking collar: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

We drove on the boundary road along the fence, checking regularly on every small ridge as we progressed. We confirmed that she was definitely on the correct side and still within the reserve, but in an area very, very thickly vegetated, and with very little road network. We drove along the road to as close as we could to her location and then veered off into the thick bush. It was quite hard going, and we wanted to approach her in the vehicle as she is habituated to our Land Cruisers and not to people on foot. We finally found her resting under a bush at about 4pm! She got up as she saw us so we quickly turned off the engine as not to disturb her. Once she had relaxed in our presence, we slowly made our way around to try have a better view of her. After a short while she got up and went into the bush directly behind her and looked down into it as though sniffing for something. She then slowly walked off to lie a little further away in the shade. This is when we realised that something was moving in that very bush she was in and after a little while we heard soft chirps similar to that of a bird and a grey ball of hair moving around!!!  Yes, CHEETAH CUBS!!!!! We were so excited to witness such young cheetahs in the wild! Although we never got a good visual due to the thick bush we were able to confirm at least one cheetah cub. Mom soon returned to comfort her little one and lay down in the bush to nurse. At one point he peered at us through the grass and we were able to confirm that his eyes were open. Cheetahs are born with eyes closed and only open after about a week to 10 days so we think that it was a couple of weeks old.

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

The young cubs: Aliénor Brassine

A couple of weeks later she had moved den to a slightly more open bush and I was able to confirm that she had a total of four cubs. Average litter size is three to four cubs with a maximum of eight, and the cubs are moved every other day to a new den. During this denning period females have very restricted home ranges and hunt within a 10km² area. Unfortunately in the weeks to follow only three cubs were seen. Mortality in cheetah cubs is extremely high, with up to 95% mortality recorded; cubs are particularly vulnerable to predation during the early stages of their life.

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

The cubs are now estimated to be approximately two and a half months old, born beginning of May, and are capable of following their mother. In the last few days many of our guests were privileged to see the three cubs as our mother has returned to her prime hunting ground.

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Photo: Aliénor Brassine

Cheetah mother and her three cubs: Aliénor Brassine

Thank you Mike Lester, Doug Devries, and Steve Gale for your help in finding our missing cheetah! Tracking from the air is an experience I will never forget! Also special thanks to Stuart Quinn for helping us follow the cheetah while she was denning on his concession.

Aliénor Brassine



3 Responses to “ “Three new cheetah cubs on Mashatu!”

  1. Nancy Lewis says:

    I am grateful that research continues at Mashatu. What a relief to you to find her again and what a gift to find her with cubs!

  2. Kay Lester says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely update. So sorry one of the baby cubs did not make it, that would make your job very tough for me. But I guess that is life in the jungle. Thank you for this and if you have any other information for our book between now and next weekend then please feel free to send to my email address.

    Warm regards,
    Kay

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