By Anne Hilborn, Apr 17 2016 11:35PM
September will go down as the month where I finally managed to do the fieldwork as I planned it oh so many months ago. The idea that I came up with in my innocence was that I’d follow the same cheetah for 5 days in a row. This rested on a number of assumptions that turned out to be a wee bit false. Namely that cheetahs didn’t move at night and at dawn would be sitting in where I had left them at dusk. Not so, and I struggled mightily to even find the same cheetah 2 days running. I struggled to the point where I reconsidered my plan of attack and even went back and read some scientific papers to see if just following a cheetah for a day instead of multiple days would still allow me to accomplish the objectives of my PhD (It will...fingers crossed). So while I made an attempt to find the previous day’s cheetah again, usually I followed a different one every day. However this changed the day I found a mother and her 3 cubs for 6 glorious days in a row. She is a rarely seen female, and we hadn’t seen her seven month old cubs before. She spent the 6 days in a fairly small area, hunkering down and not moving for the night and also importantly, hunting a lot. She had 3 cubs to feed, which meant in 6 days she killed 5 times. None of this sleeping-off-a-full-belly- for-two-days rigmarole I had come to expect from single cheetahs. It was a glorious richness of data, and I never wanted it to end. However real life of office work intruded and the day after she was nowhere to be found. I named her Wendi after my sister in law who had recently visited.
Wendi has a female and two male cubs. All of them seemed to take special delight in trying to get her to play with them by the means of face patting, neck biting and sudden attacks when she was trying to sleep. I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic when she would suddenly retaliate with the nip to the hindquarters or crotch.
There is only so much a mother can take before she goes for the disciplinary crotch bite
Wendi brought down a gazelle late in Day 4 and it was getting on towards sunset before the cubs had had their fill of eating and playing with the carcass. It was a pregnant gazelle and the cubs played tug of war with the head of the fetus for an unnecessarily long time.
Wendi led her cubs a short distance away, but then spotted a hyena heading for the remains of the carcass. Hyenas can be deadly to cheetah cubs, so like a conscientious mother, she took them at a fast clip in the other direction. However in the other direction was a herd of about 40 elephants. This lead to an utterly magical Serengeti moment of 4 cheetahs walking in the gorgeous light very near elephants, everyone ignoring everyone else. I felt incredibly lucky to witness it.