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Before The Meal

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Before The Meal

The recent Cheetah kill at Nkorho was an exciting time for all, perhaps the highlight of the year for most. Apparently the cheetah had been around the area watching the impalas, but not sighted until he had taken an impala down and was dragging it to his chosen spot to eat. So we picked up from there and watched as the cheetah ate his fill and left it for the scavengers that followed. 
But just what happened prior to our viewing? The cheetah would have been stalking the impala for awhile, watching for the slowest of the herd, the young, injured, or weakest. He would have used his sight more than his smell, as he is built for speed and accuracy unlike any other big cat. He would have spotted the herd and slowly moved closer, staying under cover of the bush or long grass for as long as possible. Slinking along with his belly low to the ground, his eyes would settle on the impala of choice, and he would begin to subconsciously calculate the moves he would need to make in order to succeed. The cheetah would move stealthily, quick sets of steps, then stop to recalculate.  His mind, while acting on instinct and skill, had to process thousands of pieces of information per minute as he readied his body to run. How far away was he, what obstacles were in the way, when would the impala be in just the right place, were there any other predators that would interfere, would his scent be detected in the wind, would the glare of the sun be too harsh...and on and on. While he didn’t ask himself those questions, the brain was figuring it out, much like ours does when we reach out to pick up something. Our brains calculate and tell our bodies how far to reach, what angle, how much strength is needed, etc, but we don’t stop and ponder those questions on a conscious level, the brain does it behind the scenes.
The cheetah had chosen the impala, as they are usually available and the perfect weight for a cheetah. They eat mostly mammals that weigh under 40kg/88lb. They males will attempt a larger prey such as wildebeest or zebra when they hunt in groups. Guinea fowl and hares are also on their list of preferred tidbits.
Unlike the other big cats that hunt mainly at night, the cheetah is a diurnal hunter, venturing out to hunt at dawn and dusk when there is still enough light but less heat.
The cheetah finally readied himself and took off like a rocket.  Running at speeds between 112 and 120km/h (70-75 mph) puts a huge amount of stress on the cheetah, raising his body temperature and heart rate so high that short sprints are all he is capable of, requiring rest before he can try again.  50% of the time the cheetah will miss the prey, and of the times he is successful, half of those will result in the loss of his meal to other hungry predators. We saw the cheetah drag the impala a little ways, then lay with it for sometime before starting to eat. The intense chase had left him exhausted, requiring rest before he could expend more energy to eat.
While the video shows the success of this cheetah, a privilege and honor for all, we don’t know how many other times he tried before he was finally successful, how many days since he had eaten, or how many times his just caught meal was stolen as he watched in hunger.  If we had seen his sprint and successful venture, we would appreciate even more his amazing ability to run at a high speed. But the cheetah did his job well and stayed hidden from not only the impala, but the camera as well. Elusive and endangered because of the decline in prey, poaching and habitat destruction, we realize just how lucky we were to see this cheetah.
What will the year of 2010 bring us as we watch the camera pan the horizon? It’s anyone’s guess...perhaps another cheetah or two, leopards and lions, hyenas and jackals? Ah yes, we have no doubt it will be another eventful year as we watch the cams, with more critters, more stories, and lots of wonderful sightings.  Happy New Year to all!