Kgalagadi – Act II: Killer instinct

About that cheetah kill I mentioned…

Sometime after midday on the Nossob River side of the park, we spotted a lone cheetah under a tree – well over a kilometre away from us. She was in the shade of a large acacia doing what these big cats do best – lounging about, full of feline disdain and attitude.

I scanned up and down the river bed with my bins (to check for hapless prey material, just in case) and lo and behold spotted three mature ostriches trotting south directly towards her (a male with two females in tow).

I made some comment about ostriches approaching the line of fire and how they were ‘lambs to the slaughter’ and all that…

My son – avid watcher of ‘Life’, ‘Nature’s Great Events’ and all programmes with the vaguest whiff of the genius of Attenborough piped up “She won’t go for them Mom, not on her own….noooo way!….Cheetah’s just don’t risk attacking ostriches without backup….too dangerous. Waaaaay too dangerous.”

The 7 ½ yr old had spoken! And given his astonishingly accurate assessment of so many other behavioural issues in the preceding days, we took his word for it and accepted that she would be wise and just watch them trot by.

She suddenly adopted that classic feline crouch, her head and ears flattened, shoulder blades up. The tension and electricity in our car was incredible as we realised it was all going to happen – and fast.

The large male ostrich trotted past and then VOOMP –she leapt. She was incredible…with precision and control and the most phenomenal speed, she bolted towards the middle bird from the side. The birds all panicked and it was knees up as they attempted to flee – tail feathers splayed and aloft.

We watched and tried to makes sense of the blur of her supremely athletic body, her stealth and missile-like focus. She veered right, then left, and then leapt up, grabbed one of the ostrich’s massive thighs with her paws and the neck with her jaws and after about 15 seconds the bird was down. There was an explosion of dust and a 30 second long struggle on the ground with dangerous thrashing legs, a flurry of wings and flaying neck.
We worried about those legs – one blow to the cat’s stomach or head could prove fatal

And then it was all over.

The dust settled and the dead ostrich was revealed – Titanic that she was. I would estimate a healthy 120 kg of flesh, bone, sinew and feathers. This bird had thighs that would make Usain Bolt whimper…

We then watched the cheetah drag the bird by the head for about a metre and then drop it. She walked back to the shade of the tree (no hint of injury or damage) and flopped down.

It was probably about 35 degrees at that point. She had just brought down (and dragged) an animal well over twice her weight and well over four times her height, and was no doubt shattered.

We waited for just under an hour – watching to see if she would start feeding, but she didn’t.

A day later we drove to the same spot and the only hint of the previous day’s carnage was a small pile of damp feathers and a few bones….whether she had eventually feasted on her prize (or possibly other scavengers in the night had enjoyed her winnings), we will never know!

When it was all over we all sat and looked at one another. I was shaking, Tim drained a 2 litre bottle of water and Warren just kept saying F#%ck.
A lot.
It was quite the most incredible thing to watch.

Here is the sequence. I apologise for the number of pictures, but I couldn’t resist.

(With big thanks to photographic maestro Warren for capturing it all between the expletives…bear in mind that this was well over a kay away and with a shimmery heat haze wobble going on so you have to really search for the cat, particularly in the first pic…)

5 thoughts on “Kgalagadi – Act II: Killer instinct

    • Thanks Alistair. Unfortunately we didn’t come across a single scorpion on this trip! Pity. Next time. I think the trick is to get walking up there and get down on hands and knees. Too much time in the car really. Also need to know where to look, I guess!

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