Ryan Hillier

NAME: Ryan Hillier





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Sunset Kill

This diary entry took place at Kwandwe

It was late afternoon and we were sitting watching two male cheetah lying in one of Kwandwe’s open plains. They were the dominant coalition on Kwandwe, and the last few days had been pretty tough on them. They had been moving around almost constantly, scent marking, calling and patrolling back and forth. We assumed this to mean that there had been a female who had moved through the area and that the males were searching for her, but to no avail. All this activity had been energy draining for the brothers and the distraction meant that they had not made a kill in over a week. Their hunger was obvious: ribs and hip bones showing clearly through their spotted coats.

And now here they lay in the afternoon sun, casually glancing up every so often at herd of black wildebeest  about 150m away before putting their heads down and dozing off again. I thought to myself that it would be a good idea to head off for an early drink stop and come back in time to see if the brothers would move just before sunset. I put my hand on the key to start my vehicle and glanced up at the cheetah one more time before I moved just as one brother rolled over and had a big yawn, followed a second later by the other male also yawning. Excitement buzzed around the vehicle, the brothers were about to move!

Drink stop forgotten, we watched the brothers for the next hour as they tried repeatedly to stalk a herd of springbok, but strong wind and a herd of eland in the area contributed to a failed effort. They lay down once more for a few minutes as the sun touched the horizon and then incredibly started following a herd of about ten eland. I was not sure what they had in mind but it didn’t look good! There were no calves in the herd and no matter how hungry they were, I didn’t think it would be possible for them to take on an animal the size of an adult eland.

But what we couldn’t see was an adult male ostrich that suddenly came running at full speed out from behind a small thicket with a cheetah hot on its heels! The change in the cheetah from a slow walk to a blistering flat out sprint was something that you can only fully appreciate when you see it! An ostrich is no slouch but as we raced across trying to keep up, we watched one male close the gap in mere seconds, with his brother close behind, and launch himself onto the ostrich’s back! He held on with all his strength with his front paws embedded in the enornous bird and still got dragged another fifty metres before he could slow the ostrich enough to allow his brother to catch up and latch onto one of the ostrich’s legs! I could barely contain myself! I sat there fidgeting around in my seat as we watched the final moments of the kill. **** The ostrich was finally pulled off its feet and moments later one cheetah clamped down on its neck and began to suffocate it. The doomed bird tried one more time to get up and away from the cheetah but it was just too far gone and soon it lay still. The cheetah took a moment to catch their breath before beginning to feed. We watched for a little while longer as the light began to fade with little conversation... just a quiet appreciation of what we had just witnessed. We left them to their meal and headed home.

*** P.S. As you read this you will see I put 3 stars in the last paragraph, this was the point in the story I had reached when I had to pause my typing because of the sound of a warthog squealing outside the ranger's house. All of us rushed outside in time to witness the last moments of another kill (the 3rd I have witnessed in the last 3 weeks!) as 3 sub-adult lions have just killed a warthog outside our house and are busy feeding!!

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