The Hunt of the Fastest
Cheetahs are known as the fastest animal on land, sprinting up to 120 km per hour and accelerating to 97 km per hour in mere 3 seconds. Not even most sports cars can do that. Cheetahs use this incredible ability for hunting. But this does not mean that every hunt is a success. Even cheetahs have to learn how to sneak up on their prey first. And that this can be quite tricky, something I was lucky enough to observe on a safari in Tanzania.
By Stefanie Rach
The Game Viewer jolts through the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. A friend and I are the guide’s only guests. The sun is already lower in the sky, so everything is bathed in a golden light – including the cheetah that suddenly emerges from the tall grass, crosses the gravel road in front of us and stops on a termite mound. Shortly afterwards, her son follows. He is already almost as big as she is and will probably leave her in a few months to stand on his own four paws. But he still has to learn from his mother how to hunt.
We watch as the two thoroughly examine their surroundings from the raised termite mound. Their eyes wander carefully from left to right, their noses in the wind, their ears erect. Suddenly the mother runs off crouching, her son takes up position behind a bush. It seems she has caught the scent of something. We try to follow her in the vehicle without getting so close that we would spoil her hunt. Again and again we lose sight of her. We can’t tell if her son is still behind the bush either. However, we see some gazelles not far away. We assume that the cheetah is after them and the guide positions the game viewer so that my friend and I have a good view. But where is the cheetah? Every few minutes we think we see her. Or was it just the grass moving in the gentle breeze?
Our guide searches every bush, every mound, every tuft of grass with his binoculars. That shadow back there, isn’t that our cheetah? Isn’t she creeping up on the gazelles in the thicket there? We hold our breath in anticipation.
And then finally we see her son. He has decided to approach the prey as well. But unfortunately he doesn’t yet have his mother’s skills of sneaking up silently and unseen. Because not only have we seen him, but also the gazelles. They emit alarm calls and run away.
End of the hunt. The gazelles have survived another day in this wonderful wilderness. But the cheetah and her son must go to sleep hungry today.
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