3 sisters

Meg has been keeping an eye out for 3 cheetah sisters whenever we are in the north part of the reserve. They used to be a coalition with their brother, but he was recently moved to another reserve. Since then the girls have been skinny and 2 are limping, so Meg wants to keep an eye on them. Yesterday evening we found them in a cozy pile. 

They still are skinny but their energy levels are normal, and the wound on one’s leg has closed up, so no intervention needed at this point. If they had been lethargic then we would have considered providing them with a fresh carcass. 

The waiting game

Wildlife monitoring takes a lot of patience. Sometimes you never find the animals you are looking for. Sometimes you track them down but don’t get a good visual. Sometimes even though you can see the animal, you still can’t get the data you’re after. 

Case in point: we followed up on a sighting of a cheetah with her 6 month old cub. The sex of the cub wasn’t yet known so we set off to find out. Good news: we found them. 

Cub is on the left, mom is on the right. Bad news: the only way to tell the sex of a cheetah is to “look at the back”, as Meg politely puts it. So we spent over an hour hoping the cub would change positions so we could make a determination. 

In other words, I spent an hour hoping to get a good look at a cheetah’s butt. So yeah, it’s not all glamor all the time here at Phinda. 

And the jury is still out on the cub’s sex. 

Darting a cheetah

Today we set off to find 2 cheetah brothers who are slated to be moved to another reserve. After a false alarm with 2 other male cheetahs, Meg spotted our guys lounging by the road. 

She notified the reserve manager and called in the vet. The plan was to dart and collar one of them today so they can be easily found when their new home is ready. 

The vet was finishing up with a rhino at another reserve so we settled in to wait.  Not bad when the views are like this, but more shade would have been appreciated. 

About 90 minutes later and several degrees Celsius hotter, everyone had arrived. Mike the vet got the tranquilliser dart ready…

… and took aim. 

Both cheetahs bolted into the brush but the darted one didn’t go far. Since it was “only cheetahs” us volunteers were allowed to follow the party into the brush. The darted cheetah was down in a conveniently shady spot. 

When working with darted animals, you typically blindfold them, so Mike the vet did the honours while Cilla got the collar ready. 

All this time we could hear the cheetah’s brother chirping, trying to find him. It sounded just like a bird. Collar on, everyone took a photo opp.

It’s cool to see that Cilla and Meg, the conservationists, still get excited to see these animals up close. 

Simon, the reserve manager, rubbed some water on the cheetah to help keep it cool since it couldn’t pant while unconscious. 

Next Mike injected something to counteract the tranquilliser. Then we waited around to make sure lions or hyenas didn’t attack the cheetah while it was down. Once it started to stir, we slowly walked away and congratulated ourselves on a job well done!

At last, cheetah!

Several times we’ve set out to check on different cheetah around the reserve, and we kept not finding them. Either we’d get caught up in other sightings, or we’d run out of daylight, or the cheetah just couldn’t be found. But finally we saw a female and her three cubs. 

The cubs are about four months old. The staff hasn’t quite figured out their sexes yet. Regardless, they are cute as hell. 

Cheetah are the smallest animal that we monitor, which is part of why they are so hard to find. Definitely worth the wait!