Asti and her cubs
Late May 2o14
In late May I was on a particularly choppy five day follow. By choppy I mean as usual I struggled to find the same cheetah for two days in a row. Back then I was still full of confidence that I could make this 5 day follow thing work, so I kept looking. Day 1 I spent with an old female named Courtney. She did bugger all, slept all day. This lack of activity made me hope that she would hunt the next day. However could I find her again on Day 2? Of course not. After driving and looking all morning, I parked in the shade and sulked for a bit before deciding to give up on Courtney and head to another area called Hidden Valley. The morning of Day 3 I found Asti and her 5 teeny tiny cubs.
In official scientist speak, cubs this small are known as Cubby Wubby Wubbies. Asti is the daughter of Sauterns, and is about 4.5 years old. I estimated the cubs to be about 3 months old, so they most likely hadn’t been out of the den for much over a couple of weeks. Spending the day watching gorgeous cheetah cubs really isn’t too bad, even when you worry about them being noticed and killed by lions or hyenas. Early in the morning Asti took them across the valley floor where they were quite exposed, but soon they settled down under a tree. Cheetah cubs have such a high mortality rate (only 5% make it to independence at 18 months) that whenever I am with them I can’t help speculating about the many sad fates they will meet. These five seemed intent on maiming themselves by playing on the small acacia tree Asti was resting under.
Day 5 they were still in the same general area, and I found them first thing clustered on top of a termite mound. However it was not long before danger loomed. Asti suddenly stiffened and gazed very intently towards the north, and following her gaze I saw two hyenas. Hyenas are not the chief killers of cheetah cubs (lions take that crown), but they do kill them, and a good cheetah mother will be very careful around them. Asti is a pretty good mother. She hunkered down and kept a very close eye on one of the hyenas as it approached.
Acacia thorns are formidable, and cheetahs are not graceful in trees, not graceful at all. Watching them awkwardly fall face first down the trunk through spiny branches was not confidence inspiring. Thankfully no one lost an eye that day, nor the next day when I found them again looking very photogenic in the morning light.
It passed by the cheetahs without paying much attention, however the other hyena came up to investigate. Deciding action was needed, Asti got up and stalked stiff legged towards the hyena. It got nearer and she charged it and then kept running up towards a third hyena who turned and retreated. The second hyena was not impressed and hadn’t moved so she came back towards it growling. Asti got very close, passing right by it but there was no contact and the hyena seemed unfazed by the whole thing. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Asti went back to her cubs and soon led them quickly across the valley and into the long grass where they would be less visible. At this point I left them to follow Almond and her big cub who were also in the area.
Asti tries to see off the second hyena. The hyena is not impressed
Despite valiant efforts to save her cubs that time, six weeks later she only had one cub left. We have no idea of knowing how they died but lions and hyenas are the leading causes of cheetah cub mortality