Winter 2020 | Kevan Dobbie

Cheetah sightings

One of the most well-adapted predators of the semi-arid southern Kalahari is the cheetah.

These big cats need plenty of space to fulfil their need to roam. This is one of the reasons why Tswalu is one of the best places in southern Africa to see cheetah in the wild. Over the last few months, numerous cheetah sightings have been recorded on the reserve.

Among all the sightings and individuals that have been seen this winter, there is one female that stands out. A ferocious mother, she has had to fight against all odds to raise her surviving litter to independence in the harsh, semi-arid Kalahari. A mother cheetah has a difficult time protecting her young from predators. She has to hide her cubs in tall grass or thickets until they are old enough to follow her and learn to hunt. Unfortunately, young cubs have a slim chance of reaching adulthood. Since early January we have witnessed this particular cheetah’s triumphs, successes, failures, and sorrows as she continues to push forward as the ‘perfect mother’ to her two surviving cubs from her most recent litter.

The cubs are now about 16 months old, and nearing independence. Through lockdown, while out on patrols, Tswalu’s guides have watched these two cubs develop, grow and transform into agile hunters. Winter has been a harsh season for this family, the mother having to continually provide for her demanding cubs as their needs have increased. Besides feeding them and teaching them to hunt, there are many lessons in survival to be taught while displaying fierce love for her offspring.

Only time will tell what becomes of these two sub-adult cubs and their mother. I wonder whether Tswalu’s first guests after lockdown will get to see them on drive, and whether both cubs will make it to adulthood. It’s impossible to say, as nature chooses her own path. This is just another example of the uncertainty that exists in the wild, and part of what keeps me enthralled by the southern Kalahari’s harsh beauty.