Africa

As Night Falls On The Masai Mara, A Cheetah Takes Flight

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It was the end of a beautiful day on the Masai Mara in Kenya last September, and the sun had just set. We were in the midst of twilight, about to return to camp for the night when we spotted three cheetah in the grass.

Camp would have to wait.

Two cheetah brothers sit on the Masai Mara

Two of three brothers sit at twilight

Three brothers, waking from a late afternoon nap, were relaxing on the ground as if they’d just enjoyed spa treatments.

They stretched ever so slowly, their front paws long and low in front of them, their butts jutting high into the air.  Casually they investigated a fallen tree nearby and decided to mark it by scratching the bark and then spraying it for good measure.

We were anxious as we watched, the reserve’s rules required us to return to camp before dark or our guide would incur a hefty penalty. The light was quickly fading, but we’d found cheetah, and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to drive away.

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A cheetah ignores a herd of wildebeest in the background

In the distance, a small herd of wildebeest walked by in single file. They paid no attention to the deadly threesome, and their indifference was returned in kind.

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Alert and ready, the cheetah prepares to stalk a young wildebeest

Suddenly, one of the cheetahs sat up, neck thrust forward – he saw something but what? Then we saw it, the tail end of the herd had moved closer and a juvenile was in his sights.

I imagined I could see him calculating his trajectory, mapping out his plan of attack, his brothers, alert and interested, didn’t budge, they watched him watch his prey. I guess it wasn’t their turn to bring home the bacon, er wildebeest.

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The cheetah began to stalk his prize, creeping low and slow through the grass in an attempt to close the distance to his prey, moments later he began to run.

The herd scattered and the cheetah zeroed in on his target. I was able to photograph a few frames but he angled away from us, and for a second a tree blocked my view.

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Moments later I could see that our hero had miscalculated, the wildebeest had been too far ahead and the cheetah’s energy topped out before he captured his prize. I watched as the young wildebeest galloped to its herd unharmed. The drama was over as quickly as it had begun.

The cheetah sauntered back to his brothers foiled but unfazed, and, alas, it was time for us to go home.

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