Cheetahs require large expanses of land that can support prey and suitable cover to thrive. One such habitat is the famed Masai Mara, a large game reserve in Kenya, named in honour of the Masai tribe. These big cats live in groups called coalitions and the Mara was home to a coalition of five male cheetahs that lived together since 2016. The coalition — named ‘Tano Bora’ or ‘The Magnificent Five’ — dwindled to just two after three of the cheetahs died between December 2020 and July 2022. A series of pictures taken during the first week of August this year features a hunt by the two survivors.
During the ‘Great Migration’ period from mid-July to mid-September, prey is plentiful as lakhs of wildebeest, zebras, and medium-size ungulates such as impala, springbok, and Thomson’s gazelles migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania.
That August morning, the cheetah duo strode to a vantage point to identify their target — a young wildebeest that stood over two km away in the Savannah grassland. With enormous patience and focus, and unperturbed by the movement of other animals, one of them made the first move after a 20-minute wait. Then, the cheetahs stealthily slid through the greenish-yellow tall grass to the nearest thicket.
The stalking began, slowly and steadily. Within an hour, they were just 400 metres from the prey. The final assault came from two different directions, startling the target and allowing no scope of escape. In the melee, the juvenile wildebeest gets separated from the herd.
The cheetahs pounce. The wildebeest falls.
Morning stroll: This six-year-old cheetah glides through the grass at Masai Mara national reserve in Kenya in search of prey. An unsuspecting herd of wildebeest is grazing not too far away.
Rare shelter: The striking landscape of the home of the spotted felines in Masai Mara has two predominant varieties of vegetation — the first one is the golden savannah grass and the other is the umbrella thorn acacia tree, which gives a unique identity to the reserve.
Close watch: The undulating landscape offers perfect camouflage for the spotted cat, as it settles down at a vantage point to keep a track of prey movement. This cheetah sits behind a mound that hides it from the herd of wildebeest a short distance away.
On alert: Cheetahs are fast but their patience is the key to a successful hunt. One false move and the prey can be startled and move away. This big cat sits perfectly still, but for the slow blink of an eye or a twitch of the tail.
Magnificent two: The surviving duo of ‘the magnificent five’ hunt together to increase their chance of catching prey. Not long ago, they were part of a five-member coalition, as a group of cheetahs is known. RAMESH SUSARLA
Group strategy: The wildebeest are a kind of antelope that traverse the grassland in search for the best pasture. They often graze in mixed herds with zebra, which gives them more awareness of potential predators. Their safety lies in the strength of the herd and the young are protected by the adults.RAMESH SUSARLA
Forces of nature: A young wildebeest, which got separated from the herd, falls prey to the cheetahs. The big cats spring from different directions, attack the antelope at the neck and pin it to the ground.
Keeping it clean: A white-backed vulture descends on the wildebeest carcass. Vultures around the world face the threat of becoming extinct. They provide an invaluable ‘clean-up’ service to the environment and are an important part of the food chain. White-backed vultures are found in open wooded savanna and scattered trees, such as areas populated by acacia.
Lofty outlook: The Mara is home to a wide variety of other species of wild animals, including the giraffe. The tallest of land animals, the giraffe has plenty of fodder in the reserve. Typically, the male giraffes eat from the top branches of the acacia trees and the females eat from the bottom branches.