Wildlife

A Reunion Of Sorts

We were driving out of Mara Plains, in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi conservancy, when we came across a male cheetah.  Although cheetah are in decline in many parts of their range, this area remains a stronghold, and we enjoy fantastic viewing on the photosafaris I lead here.  The cat was alone, and the local guides, who knew him well, mentioned that he was part of a male coalition, one of two brothers.

 

The male cheetah making contact calls. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5.6, Iso 800

The male cheetah making contact calls. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5.6, Iso 800. Click for larger view

 

The cheetah was big, healthy-looking and well-fed, but clearly stressed.  He kept climbing mounds, making contact calls. Cheetah contact calls are high-pitched chirps that don’t sound very much like a big cat at all.  They do help cheetah find each other though.  This male was still showing the slightest wash of pink on the sides of his face, indicating that he had been feeding very recently.

Whilst we were watching him, we found out from another guide what had happened.  Earlier that day, the two cheetah had been feeding on a fresh kill when they were chased by lions.  Such instances can be very dangerous for the cheetah, as lions can and do kill them.  The cheetahs only chance is to run. Obviously the two cheetah brothers had become separated.  At that stage nobody had seen the other one, and the cat we were with was desperately trying to make contact with his missing brother.

 

Male cheetah listening for a response. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 500L f4 ISii. Shutter speed 1/640sec at f5, iso 1000

Male cheetah listening for a response. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 500L f4 ISii. Shutter speed 1/640sec at f5, iso 1000. Click for larger view

 

This cheetah had covered some ground, and put several kilometres  of distance between himself and the lions.

During the course of the morning, we managed to locate the missing brother, much to our relief.  He was headed in the direction of his coalition partner, but after a while, he stopped to rest.  This cat was also well fed, and uninjured, obviously having made good his escape from the lions.  He was not calling at all but instinctively following his brothers route.  We stayed with him, intent on watching the reunion.  Typically, when coalition males have been stressfully separated, their reunion is a joyous event.  We wanted to see this, and perhaps photograph it.  I made sure I had a zoom lens on, the Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS, so that I could change my framing quickly if there was action.

Much later in the day, after several rests, the wandering brother eventually walked into view of his waiting partner. Surprizingly, the first cheetah just crouched flat, and waited.  We were still expecting him to call out or make himself visible, but he remained completely still and silent.

 

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Cheetah walking by, his brother out of sight watching him. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 70-300L IS. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f8, Iso 800. Click for larger view

 

 

The wandering cat walked closer and closer, but did not see his motionless brother.  He passed right by, and was perhaps 30 metres away when his crouching brother launched after him, from behind.

 

Brother chasing brother. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 70-300L IS. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f8, iso 800.

Brother chasing brother. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 70-300L IS. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f8, iso 800. Click for larger view

 

A high-speed chase ensued, to our amazement.

 

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The chase ends suddenly. Canon 5dmk3 and EF 70-300L IS. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f8, Iso 800. Click for larger view

 

Suddenly the chasing cheetah broke off his run, with his brother just ahead of him, and they disappeared into the thick vegetation fringing the river, and did not come out.

I had fully expected the two cats to come together happily the moment they were within one another’s line of sight.  Instead, the waiting cheetah had purposefully kept himself hidden, and made no sound.  The chase that ensued did not appear to be of a playful nature, but it may have been.  I also wondered whether the resting cheetah was perhaps unsure of the exact identity of his brother, right up until he got very close to him.  Only then was he able to let down his guard.  Unrelated male cheetah are sometimes aggressive toward one another, and mistaking your brother for a territorial rival cheetah would be a disadvantage.  Neither of the two males was making any contact calls at the time, which would have made it easier for them to recognize one another.

The two big cats never emerged from the shady bushes until late that afternoon, appearinging very content.  Although we did not get to see their eventual friendly coming-together, we did enjoy a fascinating sighting and a new lesson in animal behaviour.

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

12 Responses to “A Reunion Of Sorts”

  1. nancy Says: March 15, 2015 at 7:32 am

    I was just thinking today that it seemed like a long time since you posted anything. Great story and photos to go with it. It’s so nice when you have the time to follow and interaction and watch it unfold.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 15, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Hi Nancy, glad you enjoyed the post, I am still in the field, hence my recent ‘quiet’ time on the web 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  2. Anita Baert Says: March 15, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Loved your narrative…I would also have expected a more “joyous” reunion…but happy that at least they found one another again…regards

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 15, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Anita
      Thanks for your feedback 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  3. Penny Ollard Says: March 15, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the information and unfolding of events – love to here your stories – and for the pictures to.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 16, 2015 at 7:07 am

      Hi Penny
      Thanks for reading, I always enjoy being able to share some of the interesting things I get to watch, via images and text 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  4. Scott Lewis Says: March 15, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Really enjoyed your post on the cheetah’s. Glad they are doing well.

    Keep the post coming.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 16, 2015 at 7:05 am

      Hi Scott
      The cheetah brothers are doing great, we photographed them chasing and making a kill a week ago. More posts to follow 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  5. joke ohm-van spanning Says: March 15, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks Grant for the beautiful and interesting information, for me that means you and the guides were really taking your time and a lot of people even don’t notice this kind of things sometimes perhaps animal are also a little bit angry on each other, after calling everytime and cats special can be very proud and indignant (look at your housecat.). was glad with this story, sorry for the terrible english

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 16, 2015 at 7:04 am

      Hi Joke, your English is better than my Dutch 🙂
      I always try to spend time watching behaviour,and the male cheetah are especially interesting because they are social.
      Cheers
      Grant

  6. Philippa Castle Says: March 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks Grant, an amazing read and lovely photos… 🙂 Keep them coming!

  7. DaveT Says: March 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Grant,

    Great informative post – not only do you take great images you give us valuable insights into animal behaviour too. Thanks.

    It was good to bump into you in the Conservancy – I hope you managed to find Fig the leopard later that evening. We fortunately saw her on a small mound in the most wonderful afternoon sun.

    Look forward to seeing more blog posts from you – and some of your equipment reviews too.

    David

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