Dangerous Cheetah Encounter! The males meet the female for the first time!
This story starts a few months earlier, when a female cheetah was released in the reserve. We were waiting for the moment when she would meet our resident coalition of two male cheetahs.
After roaming the reserve for more than 2,5 months our female cheetah finally met the males (or at least this is the first meeting that we know about). We arrived just after they had met and they were busy vocalizing and jumping up and around each other. The males showed some aggression towards her and the female was visibly in distress and behaved very submissive. The social structure of cheetahs is a bit different than those of other big cats. Male cheetahs often form coalitions which actively defend a territory against other males while females are solitary nomads living in a certain home range but do not mark or defend this area actively against other cheetahs.
Both female and male cheetahs range over vast distances and generally occur at low densities. So if male cheetahs encounter a female in their territory this means that they often react very excited. They will be interested in the female if there is a mating opportunity but can also respond aggressive to a female that is not submissive or does not want to mate with them. A first meeting between cheetahs is always a tense moment, are they going to fight? Are they going to mate? Do they accept each other? These and a lot of other questions went through our head while we were approaching the cheetahs. Loud vocalizations and a lot of ‘fighting’ occurred initially but they settled down after about half an hour.
After about 2 hours of ‘peace’, the female tried to sneak away again and almost managed to do so but got spotted by the males after she tried to cross a road. The males jumped up and started hunting her down. Since they had to cover some distance they lost visual of the female and frantically started pacing up and down the road. The female in the meantime tried to get away fast and walked east. She was stopped in her tracks by the Matlabas River; cheetahs are not fond of swimming and she tried to find a place where she could jump to the other side. Eventually her will to get away from the males was stronger than her fear of water and she jumped, only to find herself on an island in the river. She had to jump another stream to get to the other side and doubted for almost half an hour pacing up and down the banks of the island. She struggled to take the decision to jump the river and by this time the males spotted her again from the other bank.
They immediately ran down to the river and somehow convinced her to jump back to the side that she came from again. Then it started all over again, jumping, displays of aggression and submission and even an attempt to mate with her by one of the males. She was fighting them off but started to get tired. After about 15 minutes all three cheetahs lay down next to each other again and it seemed she was going to have a difficult day. But then something unexpected happened.
After putting so much effort in hunting down the female, we did not expect the males to lose sight of her again. But in the bush always expect the unexpected! The males suddenly lost interest in the female and simply walked off towards the river, jumped over on the other bank. This was a truly unique sighting! Let’s hope that they will mate in the future so that there will be a concrete contribution towards the cheetah population in South Africa and give this amazing species a chance of a bright future.