The odds of success

18 04 2011

What are the odds of seeing a female cheetah catch three impala in three attempts?

What are the odds of photographing two of the kills in action?

What are the odds of the cheetah catching the impala behind the only Acacia tree in area?

What are the odds of the cheetah keeping all three kills?

All these questions are answered by the images below.

In an incredibly lucky streak, known now as a ‘purple patch’, I have seen a female cheetah take three impala in three attempts!

Cheetahs are not known for their dazzling strike rate, normally catching one in ten – at best, one in five, but this particular individual is setting new records.  The first time I saw her kill, (published in a previous post:  https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/cheetah-1-0-impala/), was when she caught a young impala right out in the open.  She had a sub adult female daughter with her at the time, so while keeping the kill, had to share it with her ravenous youngster.  The impala was quickly devoured, and the cheetah got to feed in relative peace.

The second kill was one of the sneakiest approaches I have seen by a cheetah.  She ambushed the herd while they were tucked up in a thicket – not the cheetah’s usual hunting ground.  Cheetahs prefer wide open spaces, which allow them to reach the speeds they need to reach to catch their quarry.  This record setter, however, used almost leopard style tactics, to get her within twenty meters of the unsuspecting herd.  She made the charge, heading into the thicket from the clearing, and surprised the herd at a whopping 120km/h!  The entire chase was only sixty meters in length – a far cry from the usual three to four hundred meters that the prey is afforded to try make good their escape.  The ankle tap technique used to trip up the prey was deployed, but instead of the unlucky impala falling head over heels, it spun around, and changed direction 180 degrees.  This prompted a further change in tactics from the female cheetah, who then used a ‘rugby like’ tackle, to secure her meal.  Unfortunately, given the habitat, capturing all the madness on camera was not possible.

Between these two sightings, the sub adult daughter has left her mother, which allowed the female access to the entire impala.  As per the textbook this time, she dragged the impala under a small tree, did the required look around for danger, and began to feast.  When we returned in the afternoon, she was laying about ten meters from the carcass, with a huge belly.  She had fed well, and it showed.  The young impala had done its job.

A few days later, and she was at it again.  A morning hunt proved successful.  Her choice of prey was again a young impala, which she spent over an hour stalking.  She reversed her tactics on this occasion, and stalked through the bush towards the impala, which were feeding on the fringes of the open area.  Like a bolt of lightning, she came rushing out of the bushes towards the impala, which employed their ‘bombshell’ technique, to try confusing their attacker.  Cheetahs are arguably the least opportunistic of the big cats, and single out a target before the chase begins.  In this instance, the tried and trusted bomb shelling did not work.  The female cheetah had locked onto her target, and the chase began.  The young impala used a series of tight turns to try throw the cheetah off its tail, but the cheetah, using her slightly flattened tail as a giant rudder, steered her way through the zig zagging course set by her soon to be victim.  Most of the chase was out in the open, but as luck would have it, the actual catch was smack behind the only Acacia tree in the vicinity!

Again, she dragged her trophy towards a small tree, (not the Acacia that cost the team earlier), but was stopped midway to safety.  A large male lion had heard the commotion, and came running in to investigate.  The sound of the chase, the kill and the alarm calls from the surviving impalas alerted him as to the exact position of the carcass.  He charged in.  She heard him coming, dropped the impala, and this time used her speed to save her own life!  In a conflict situation between lions and cheetahs, the lions always win.  Knowing this, she cut her losses, and ran off.  She lost her hard earned prize, but there are always more to be caught!

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