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I Thought Cheetahs Were Loners...

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I Thought Cheetahs Were Loners...

Several nights ago, we were amazed as we watched as a group of four large cats come into view at the Nkorho Pan. They settled in for a few minutes of thirst quenching while we debated exactly what we were looking at. Leopards? No...Too long in the body. Lions? No...Wrong build, smaller heads. Hmmm...cheetahs? Could it be cheetahs? No, of course not, they are solitary aren’t they? Could it be a mother and three nearly grown cubs? No...That was all but impossible. Well then, what were we looking at? Eventually, with the help of the eyes watching from the forum and the knowledgeable folks at the Nkorho lodge, the cats were identified as a coalition of male cheetahs. A what? Yes...a group of male cheetahs, usually related to each other, is called a coalition. The females however are the true loners, only seen in the company of males while in estrus. A female’s territory is much larger than the males, and she may cross into the territories of several different coalitions over time. These coalitions are more often than not brothers, but will on occasion have an outsider in the group. They band together to defend their territory, not fighting amongst themselves, but will act territorial toward other coalitions. Cheetahs are not bound by seasons to reproduce, and are the most prolific in the cat family. So why are they endangered? 90% of the cubs born never make it past the first 3 months. About 50% of those are taken by predators and 40% from the lack of genetic diversity which is responsible for weak or compromised immune systems. These reasons alone have put the cheetah on the critically endangered species list, not forgetting that the cheetah has suffered a 90% decline in the past century due to territories being lost and food sources disappearing. A coalition you say? Yes...a coalition of male cheetahs that need more than a little luck on their side to survive the next few years. And their cubs need even more luck and protection. Here in Sabi Sands, they are provided safe haven, but like any cat, you can’t tell them where to go in order to stay safe. They will wander in and out of protected areas. We can only hope that this little spot in South Africa will prove to be the safe haven that helps them to improve their survival rates.

 

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