In search of Kapama’s big cats
Everyone loves a good predator sighting, and there’s no greater thrill than getting close to the big cats that call Kapama home. Our bold lions, elusive leopards, and elegant cheetahs never fail to get the adrenaline pumping, and we are really fortunate to be able to get close to them without disturbing their natural behaviour.
Kapama’s lions are particularly relaxed around vehicles, possibly because they are innately confident within the protection of their pride, but mostly because many of them have grown up with the smells and sounds and chatter of game viewers. This makes them wonderful subjects for photography, especially when their cubs are out and about, amusing our guests.
Getting as close to a leopard or cheetah, though not impossible, is a little more challenging. Nevertheless, there have been many special occasions where I have enjoyed memorable sightings of a lurking leopard or a cheetah feasting on a fresh kill.
On one such occasion, my Argentinian guests were desperate to see a cheetah. It was their last evening drive and though I knew that chances of finding one were slim, we headed out to the north western farm to seek out a speedy spotted cat.
The bark of an anxious nyala alerted us to the presence of a predator so Shadrick, my tracker, jumped off to see what he could find on foot while I drove around the block. When we both came back empty-handed we decided to cut our losses and go and check on a kudu that had been taken down by lions the previous night instead.
The well-fed lions and their cubs entertained us for a while, and we’d all made peace with our cheetah no-show by the time we left them to find a spot for sundowners. But just as we passed where the nyala had called earlier, the snorts of nervous impala brought us to a halt once more.
“There she is! There she is!” came a cry from an ecstatic guest behind me.
Sure enough, there was the cheetah they were so desperate to see, stalking through the bush and away from stares and snorts of the unhappy impala as if she hadn’t been there all along. It just goes to show, those spots really are fantastic for camouflage, and just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Written by: Chane Blignaut
An unexpected kill
The African bushveld isn’t always like you see it on television. Lion prides don’t always have a big male accompanying them, leopards aren’t always in trees, and cheetahs don’t always outrun their prey across vast, open plains.
Open grasslands are ideal hunting grounds for cheetahs, so we were happy but not surprised to find a solitary female on a particularly open section of the reserve on our morning drive. We followed her as she walked along the thickets that bordered the open area, and when she paused for a few seconds as if she’d heard something we prepared ourselves for a possible chase.
But she surprised us by moving into the thickets.
We thought we’d lost her, that she was moving into deep shade to sleep, but we quickly discovered that she had other plans. Soon after she disappeared, a female waterbuck bolted out of the thickets, voicing her alarm with a series of unhappy snorts, and from the dense undergrowth came a quick and unexpected ‘mehh’ sound.
It was then that I suspected a cheetah kill, because the sheep-like sound is a typical distress call made by prey animals after having been captured. I maneuvered around the thickets on the off chance that the cheetah had come out on the other side, then sat and waited for barely five minutes before she reappeared, dragging the carcass of a young waterbuck calf past my vehicle and into the open, under a tree, where she could feed comfortably while keeping an eye out for danger. She fed quickly and warily – cheetahs, being smaller, weaker and unable to hoist their prey into trees, are especially vulnerable to other large predators – and the hopeless waterbuck mother wandered away to rejoin her herd.
The best sightings are often tinged with sadness, but this unexpected cheetah kill was a great way to end our morning safari.
Written by: Riaan Botha
Kapama River Lodge
Buffalo Camp is aptly named. On a recent game walk, we set out after breakfast heading for the dam near Buffalo Camp – because buffalo had been spotted there. En route, we saw various different birds and interesting animal tracks, and also heard the buffalo.
We moved in the direction of the sound, and there they were: a herd of about 60 buffalo, calmly drinking water. They had no idea we were watching them, because both the wind and the sun camouflaged us from sight and scent. After taking all the photos we wanted, we left; the buffalo still had no idea we’d been in their midst.
Walking back to camp, I heard vervet monkeys give an alarm call quite close to where we were standing. There was rumour of a predator in the area, so I scanned the bush to see if I could spot one. No luck though, because the grass was long and provided perfect camouflage for them. But the monkeys had spotted it already.
We continued walking back to camp, hopped onto a game-viewing vehicle and headed out to search for what the monkeys had seen. It didn’t take us very long to find the prize. Sitting on top of a termite mound, looking regal, was a young female cheetah. I had never seen her before on the reserve, so this was a special sighting already.
She sat there quite calmly, sniffing the air every so often. That’s what cats do when they’re on the hunt. They can literally smell their next meal. After about 20 minutes, she got up and started walking towards a dry dam nearby. Now out of the long grass and walking down the sand road, the young cheetah continued to sniff the air. Not even a minute later, she lay down in the road. She’d spotted an impala ram about 80 metres away. He was in mortal danger and didn’t even know it. Instead, he continued browsing, tree to tree, believing he was perfectly safe.
The cheetah, crouched low, started stalking the impala and got to 20 metres from him before she was spotted. He ran and she gave chase, running right past our vehicle in the scurry. She ran the impala towards a nearby gully. He slipped and fell. Then quickly got up again. But the cheetah was too quick. She tapped the impala on the back and managed to pull him down. Immediately she went for the throat to suffocate the animal. Very quickly it was all over.
Before starting her meal, the cheetah seemed to pose for photos alongside her prize. Once she’d caught her breath, she was ready to feed. So we left her to enjoy her brunch – and noted another amazing day at the ‘office’.
Written and photographed by Almero Klingenberg – Buffalo Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey
Baby animals are always a hit, and watching their different stages of development is fascinating for everyone on a game drive. Cheetah cubs were a recent addition to the Kapama wildlife family, and there was great excitement and anticipation to watch the tiny cubs grow into adult cheetahs. As a ranger and field guide, I was lucky to see them for the first time when they were just a few weeks old.
Cheetah cubs have similar colouring to honey badgers, which serves to deter predators from attacking them – as honey badgers are one of the most vicious animals in the African bush. It was a first for me, to see an adult cheetah being followed tenaciously by what looked like four miniature honey badgers.
One night, the female cheetah took down a sizable impala ram, and it was quite a feast for her and her two remaining cubs. We saw them feeding on the carcass the following day too, but that night hyenas stole their kill and, in the process, killed another one of the cheetah cubs. Now there was just one cub remaining.
The next morning, when we found the cheetah with her only surviving cub, she was calling desperately for the others, and not paying much attention to her only living cub. This was not a good sign at all. While she was mourning her dead cubs, she was neglecting to feed or care for her remaining cub. By the following day, it too was dead.
As a first-time mother, this cheetah didn’t know how to handle so many cubs, and brought them out from cover and into the open too quickly. This is likely one of the reasons why they didn’t survive very long. The African bush brings many surprises, and there are not always happy endings. I am sure, though, that she has learnt important lessons through losing her entire litter of cubs, and this cheetah will be a much more successful mother next time round.
Written by Angie Seeber, River Lodge
Edited by Keri Harvey
Two days ago our resident Cheetah males managed to bring down a young Kudu cow in a well wooded area just outside Southern Camp lodge entrance. Rather than a full out chase for which they are known for, we imagined that they probably altered their hunting style a bit and opted for an “ambush” attack. The combined weight of these to males was probably to much for the Kudu cow, and they should have managed to bring her down quite easily despite the prey animal out-weighing the predators by far.
Male Cheetah are known to form coalitions, who together will fight off rival males and this also allows them to “tackle” much larger prey than they would normally be able to handle by themselves.
One of the males injured his paw during the struggle, but it luckily it doesn’t appear to be too serious and he should make a full recovery.
We will however monitor him over the next few days , as even slight injuries can sometimes be fatal for Cheetah, more so if it renders them incapable to fend off other predators or even unable to hunt. Luckily we see them quite often around this area and they are already known as the Southern Camp boys.
We will keep you updated on their progress…
Westley Lombard – Southern Camp Senior Ranger
(Photos, courtesy of Mrs Julia Chan… Thank you Julia!)