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  • Writer's pictureLEO Africa

Incredible battle for survival – Cheetahs VS Wildebeest

The unexpected happened in front of our eyes on the way back home. The sighting of a lifetime, the dream of many. One of those moments that can’t be retold because you must live them to feel the tension, the adrenaline. All your senses heighten and there is an internal fight between seeing a kill and hoping for the prey to escape. A moment that the best documentaries try to portray. But this was real, in front of our eyes!

After a very successful morning drive in which we saw the cheetahs we were looking for and a wonderful herd of elephants by the river, just on the road five minutes away from home we found two male cheetahs. These two cats were released last week and have already traveled the entire park to get to know the area.

They looked pretty hungry and they seemed to be looking for food to fill their bellies. Walking one behind the other, they kept their eyes towards the thick bushes, hoping to spot an antelope.

Suddenly, one of them stopped, gave an intense glance in the direction of the bushes and started running. The other cheetah followed. Our hearts started to beat faster and faster. The hunt was on.

All we could see was a cloud of dust and after a couple of seconds a herd of wildebeest ran about 30 metres behind our vehicle. We engaged into reverse to go back a few metres to see what was happening on the main road when a wildebeest popped out of the bush about a metre behind us, followed by a cheetah running closely behind it.

The emotion was high, the adrenaline at the stars. Now the second cheetah joined the chase. The wildebeest was slowed down in his run by the bushes, an advantage for the fast and agile cheetahs, who managed to jump on him. Then, they went for his legs, biting them and holding onto them while the powerful prey was dragging them along the road for about 50 metres. The battle was on.

One of the cheetahs was really determined, he never let go. The other, a bit more hesitant, was hooked on the horn and he flew over the wildebeest, landing on his back, uninjured.

The attack was fast and determined. The moment was intense, the adrenaline was running through our bodies, none of us could say a word. It was a fight for survival. The wildebeest was vocalising in pain, the cheetahs were attacking him changing angle and strategy.

Suddenly the wildebeest lost his balance and fell down. The cheetahs were biting his legs and afterwards the neck. The prey was strong, maybe too much for them. He wanted to live, they wanted to eat. It was exhausting to watch, imagine how tired both prey and predator were. There was a moment in which we thought: ”it is done”. The wildebeest was not moving with the cheetahs biting his hind quarters, although there wasn’t much bleeding. At this point all three animals had a sort of “break”, each holding the same position for minutes.

Maybe it was in this time that the wildebeest, even if in pain, pulled together the last of his energy in a final attempt to escape. At first, one of the cheetahs went to rest, with the second one trying to accomplish the hunt on his own. After a few minutes the wildebeest gave his all to shake off the second cheetah, who jumped into the air with a yelp and retreated into the bush a few metres away.

A timeless break started, in which all of us were wondering what would happen next. Would the cheetahs try again to catch the wildebeest or was it over?

One thing was for sure, all three of them were really exhausted, taking a break from this incredible hunting/defense effort. For over twenty minutes they all laid in close proximity, keeping an eye on each, when the wildebeest stood up. His leg was scratched, bitten, but he was still going strong. 

After another long ten minutes, the wildebeest seemed to have recovered. He chased off the first cheetah, then the other one. He finally trotted away on the road, like a horse doing dressage, showing off his power.

A lucky day for this wildebeest, who re-joined his herd. A lucky day for the cheetahs who, even though they did not get their desired lunch, were not injured after such an epic battle.

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