Darting my last cheetah

It’s fitting that Mike the  vet darted cats on my first and last days at Phinda. 

A while ago this female cheetah was seen with what we thought were burn marks on her legs. 

Meg sent a photo to the vet and it turns out the cheetah has mange. So we’ve been trying to find her again in order to treat her. A ranger finally got a good view of her, so we joined him and called Mike the vet. An hour later Mike was on the scene with his trusty dart gun. 

Whenever an animal is darted, they run a bit. You’d be startled too if someone shot you in the derrière. You can see the dart in the left side of the cheetah’s rump. 

The darts used for cheetah have a dissolving needle so they fall out on their own. 

Next we tracked the cheetah to where it went down, thankfully in the shade. Because the meds slow their breathing, you always have to worry about darted animals overheating. Given how bad this cat’s mange was, I was happy we didn’t have to move her to a shadier spot. If you look at her legs you can see why the Zulu name for this is “the burning sickness”:

Mike injected her with medicine and then gave her the reversing agent for the tranquilliser. We settled in to wait for her to get up. She was pretty woozy but eventually got back on her feet. She should only need that single dose of meds, but the monitoring team will be keeping an eye on her for a while. 

And with that, my time at Phinda was over! I was sad to leave, but looking forward to vacation with Grimbil at another reserve. 

Mystery cheetah

Several mornings in a row we saw a female cheetah hanging out in the road on our way south and we’ve been trying to identify her.

Initially we thought she was one of the 3 sisters. They are nearly 2 years old so they’ll be splitting up soon. Adult female cheetahs are solitary whereas males usually hang out in coalitions. 

But Cilla finally recognised her as a cheetah that hasn’t been seen in over a year. It’s possible she left Phinda for a while. Her sister and brother have reputations for being escape artists. Still, it’s good to know she’s alive and well!

Staying at the deep end of the gene pool

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Phinda sometimes sends animals to other reserves, but never really said why. 

It’s mostly to help with genetic diversity. Since Phinda is fenced in, new animals can only arrive with human intervention (except leopard, hyenas and wild dogs, they just ignore the fences). So in order to prevent inbreeding, it’s common for managed reserves to swap out their breeding males. They prefer to keep the females since that means they get to keep the offspring, like these super cute lion cubs hiding in the grass:

So for example, Phinda is sending those 2 male cheetahs that we darted and collared to another reserve. After they have left, a third reserve is sending 2 male cheetahs to Phinda to take their place. 

Population control is another reason to send animals elsewhere. For example, Phinda can support no more than 3 prides of lions. So those 2 males that we darted on my first day won’t be back filled. 

Another reason is to increase the range of a species. This is especially true for rhino. Phinda is part of a couple of programs that reintroduce rhino to other areas of Africa where they were previously hunted out. It’s pretty exciting to help (hopefully) bring a species back to where it used to be! Check out this baby rhino, just 4 months old. 

The jerk store called…

…and they’re running out of him:

Meet Cheetah Male 254 and for those of you who aren’t Seinfeld fans, this cheetah is a jerk. When Meg saw him she mentioned that he’s a bit of a bully and is know to run off other cheetah. We followed him for an hour. He was clearly following the scent of something. 

Turns out he was following a mother cheetah and her three cubs (the mother and cubs who were our first cheetah sighting back in week 1).

And not because he wanted to give her flowers. 

He stalked up and then pounced on her. 

Although she got one good swipe in, she quickly became quite submissive. He sauntered around for a while and then eventually stalked off. 

Similar to lions, male cheetahs sometimes kill cubs in order to get rid of the competition’s offspring and send females back into heat. It’s not clear why this guy just showed dominance and then left. He might be the cubs’ father. I’m just glad the cubs are ok!

For your next pub quiz

Whoever named the collective nouns for African animals clearly had fun with it. For your linguistic amusement, I present:

A journey or tower of giraffes

A raft or bloat of hippos

A coalition of cheetahs

A plausibility of wildebeests 

A dazzle of zebras

And my favorite, a crash of rhinos

Will work for cheetah

Driving south to find 2 particular male cheetahs, we noticed a taxi stuck behind a fallen fence. Meg stopped to lend a hand and see what they were pointing at. Turns out it was 2 male cheetahs enjoying a freshly killed juvenile wildebeest. 

The cheetah wasn’t impressed with us so he moved the kill further away, closer to where his brother was waiting. 

Meg carefully got out and tied the downed fence to the back of our vehicle, explaining that she would only do this with cheetah who were busy on a fresh kill. Don’t try this at home kids! 

She successfully pulled the fence out of the driveway and the taxi trundled off. We then settled in to see if these were the cats we were looking for. 

The identifying marks we were looking for were around their mouths, so the fact that they were, um, messy eaters made our job a bit harder. 

Turns out they weren’t our guys so we recorded them and then continued on our way. Still, pretty cool to see them up close devouring a kill! Check out the full belly on the cheetah on the right. 

Meg thinks they ran the wildebeest into the fence, which is a pretty unique hunting method. 

Cat hat trick

We scored a cat hat trick on a recent drive: cheetah, lion, and leopard!

First, we spent some time with a couple of cheetahs.

Then on to lions. These lions were gazing at a herd of wildebeests, which were staring right back. It felt kinda like a standoff in a western. In the end, the lions went back to sunbathing near the water (stopping to hiss at a crocodile along the way).

And the grand finale: leopard! Leopards are harder to spot than lions since they tend to prefer to move in the shadows. They keep to the forest and are generally seen in the evening. See if you can find the leopard in this pic:

We only caught glimpses of him but he was beautiful. And huge. Leopards are stealthy and opportunistic hunters — they’ll eat anything from birds and baboons to zebras.  This leopard had just killed a zebra and was out for a stroll to mark his territory when we saw him.