A first time mother of four male cubs, (and they were very energetic, and confident little boys.)
I absolutely loved monitoring this fantastic family of wild felines every day!
Catja really had her work cut out for her! Though she was a first time mom, she showed superb maternal instincts, being highly protective of the cubs, and an amazing consistency in hunting and providing food for them.
Catja worked tirelessly day in and day out, raising those little cubs into the strong males they are today.
There had been a severe drought in the area I was working. And this, coupled with the fact that Catja was so efficient in making kills, drastically brought down the numbers in her preferred prey species, blesbok. Therefore, Catja had to resort to hunting smaller, and quicker game.
This meant she had to start hunting springbok, impala and other small game. But with four growing boys, a single springbok antelope is not enough to suffice such hungry mouths. Catja began working twice as hard, so efficient and clever she was, she would often kill two springbok a day. She was a phenomenally proficient huntress.
But as time went on, the springbok herds became even more vigilant and learned her ambush methods, and so her kill streak began to dwindle.
Then came the hardest time, Catja began missing her prey. She still managed to kill small animals like steenbok and hares, but this was barely enough to sustain herself and four cubs. My job was the daily monitoring of the cheetahs on the reserve. So it was of great interest observing how this particular mother cheetah had been raising her young, and the struggles they faced, and how she continued to adapt to overcome the turmoils…
I found Catja and her cubs, they needed food desperately. And Catja was entirely exhausted. The evening was gray and overcast.
The world seemed entirely quite. Catja starred into my eyes, her eyes like deep pools of amber. They always seemed to much darker than the other cheetahs.
I knew already what she had been going through, the struggles, the hardships. She was exhausted. But her eyes told me, she was confident. Her eyes told me, victory was certain. I believed her…
I was on foot the next morning. It had been hard to watch Catja over the previous days, she was exhausted. And she was hungry. And so were the cubs, who were a constant worry for her. They NEEDED food.
I walked about, looking for tracks and signs. I knew Catja was going to be in the area. I walked through a vast scrubland, shrouded in mist. I looked upon a ridge to the north, the herd of springbok which Catja had been sticking to over the last several days, were grazing along the hill. And in amongst them were the quick and clever impalas, another species of antelope. I knew this would make matters even more difficult for the huntress.
I knew Catja was around. She had to be.
I kept going along quietly and slowly, looking for the familiar spotted camouflage of the cheetah pelts. Then, I saw a little ways ahead of me, Catja’s four cubs. They were sitting under a bush together, watching the herd on the hill intently.
The cheetahs were accustomed to seeing me on foot or in my vehicle every day, so they had little interest in me. I did not see Catja. I knew she would be hunting. So I got down low where I was, in a bush near the cubs, not wanting to disturb the scene. And this way I could watch the impending action that was to come. I just knew Catja was hunting.
All eyes were on the herd, the fog from the early morning was lifting, Catja would come out eventually. She had to. Maybe, this would be her day. We seemed to be sitting there forever…suddenly, one of the cubs made a little squealing murmur of excitement, they all sat up straight, and I saw the reason why…
Ahead of us on the ridge, the impalas started alarm calling, and they began to scatter, the springbok scattered with them, all in aflurry of panic. And then there was the cheetah. Catja sprang out from the underbrush where she had been hiding, but I thought, it’s too late surely, the herd is so far ahead now, but then I saw her target… One of the springbok had been further apart from the rest of the herd, but now was it was too late for it to react. At that moment the cheetah’s speed increased to a full on high speed sprint that only a cheetah is capable of, and I witnessed then the most beautiful chase I have ever seen. Sprinting between 75-80mph (120km/hr), to the point all four paws would in midair as she sprinted fully stretched. Catja was incredible!! I never would have thought I would have the privilege to witness such speed except in documentaries, yet here it was happening before my very eyes. Over the ridge they went, and the cloud dust went up, followed by the sound of the kill. We knew Catja had done it. She was victorious.
Silence reigned over the world. The cubs were staring ahead, wriggling with excitement. They looked at me, they looked at each other, and looked to where their mother had gone down. Then her chirping calls echoed across the silent Karoo earth. The cubs sprang forward, sprinting towards the sound, chirping like excited birds in an excited response.
I followed behind and found them all together, the cubs digging into the springbok, practising their strangle holds on the carcass, while the mother lay panting and exhausted in the shade from all her momentous effort.
I was overwhelmed by the wonder of this experience, and so inspired by Catja’s determination and strength.
It was Catja’s devotion and and willingness to get through and overcome any obstacle, that ensured her cubs’ survival. Now as they are entering adulthood, all four brothers follow in their mother’s footsteps in confidence, energy, and ability. They’ve made their first kill. And I foresee these once tiny babies to become as highly efficient and gifted as their mother Catja was.
Catja had been at a point of hunger and exhaustion. A point where the heaviness of life’s hardships seemed suffocating. I’m sure most can relate to this feeling. This cheetah had been in a state of haggard weariness. Yet, she did not stop. Giving up never crossed her mind. She was focused. Focused on the success that was certain. This cheetah would never stop as long as her heart was beating, and as long as our hearts are beating, whatever the circumstances, we should follow her example…