On a trip to the Kgalagadi in April 2017 we were spending some time in the Mata-Mata area. Monitoring the various social media platforms prior to the trip, we were aware of a female cheetah and four sub-adults that were frequenting the area. There had been many sightings of kills, as she was adding the finishing touches to the process of teaching them to fend for themselves in the future.
We were returning to camp from a morning drive at about 9.30am and were checking the ridges for the cheetahs, as many of the sightings had been recorded at this time of day. It was almost like clockwork when we spotted the animals on the ridge overlooking the riverbed. There was a herd of springbok grazing and the cheetahs had cover behind some trees and were clearly stalking. We watched as they crept right to the road, and with the mother in the lead, all five animals took off after the springbok. There was mass confusion with springbok and cheetah running in all directions, and the hunt was unsuccessful.
The cheetah continued to hunt all day. We followed them, losing and relocating them several times. At 4pm the mother had split from the group of youngsters. We watched her chase again, this time alone, but she was again unsuccessful. At about 4.30pm the family re-grouped, we called it a day and headed back to camp.
As usual, the following morning we wanted to be first out of camp and left Mata-Mata as soon as the gates opened. We hoped to find the cheetahs again, driving to the area where we had left them the previous night. We took the low road towards Dalkeith waterhole and at 7.30am we spotted the five of them feeding on a kill they had just made.
Suddenly something seemed to grab their attention and they all sat up and looked in the direction of the waterhole, which was about 500 m away. They then crouched down next to the springbok kill.
We then saw a lone brown hyena walking in the direction of the cheetahs. He looked towards them, but then turned away and started towards us with his head down, paying no further attention to the feeding animals. Suddenly he turned and headed once more towards the cheetah, still with its head down. The hyena then lifted his head, quickened his pace and ran straight at the five cheetah who stood up to defend their kill but scattered when they realised he was not going to stop.
The brown hyena went straight for the dead springbok and started to feed. The cheetah circled round, but the aggressive scavenger continued, stopping only to chase one of them away when it got too close.
Eventually, things calmed down and the four subadults and the brown hyena fed on the springbok together. After some time, the hyena tore off a large part of the carcass, which it carried away over the dunes, presumably taking the meal back to its den.
The cheetah fed on what was left, and that was the end of another epic day in the Kgalagadi.
Photo story: Nick Rabjohn