Summer in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and we were watching the miracle of birth a kilometre or two south of Kamfersboom waterhole on the Auob riverbed.
Mum was quiet, dignified, none of the wailing and gnashing of teeth you get from humans giving birth. After a few minutes she got up and walked two or three metres north, the lamb’s tiny hooves flopping as she stepped.
Now we had ringside seats for a kill we didn’t really want to witness.
The cheetah unclamped his jaws and took her by the neck, dragging her five metres to the shade of a camelthorn tree. After the chase and the kill, this was a mighty effort. The pregnant springbok was almost the same size as him and probably weighed only about ten kilograms less. It was 40 degrees Celsius so the shade of that tree was critical for the already overheated cheetah.
All this time we watched the lamb’s face, its eyes blinking, its mouth opening and closing without a sound. It was only a matter of time before it would be dead too – a horrible end to all of mum’s investment in a six-month pregnancy.
He set about opening the mother’s back leg with his side teeth. From just three metres away, we could clearly see his spittle and the wet fur on the springbok’s leg. We could see his bloody jaws and face, even the white tendons as the cheetah ripped at the dark meat, his whole face disappearing into the hole as he ate.
According to cheetah boffin Luke Hunter, adult cheetahs need about 4-5 kilograms of meat per day but if they get the chance they can eat up to about 15 kilograms at a sitting. This cheetah would rest and feed again as long as no lions or hyenas came to bug him.
During our 12 days in the park we’d seen only five cheetahs. Talking to other people who had seen so many – one couple had seen 21 in two weeks – made us deeply jealous. But numbers aren’t everything. A gift on our last day in the park, this was just one individual but it was probably the best cheetah sighting of our lives.
And that’s life and death in the Kgalagadi. The miracle of birth, then a streak of spotted fur and two animals are dead. It’s not evil or cruel, it’s just nature.
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