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20 Jun, 2024
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The Speedy Spots

The Speedy Spots!!- Article by Gareth Jones

The Speedy Spots: Africa’s Remaining Cheetahs

Clouds of dust arose rapidly as thousands of wildebeest accelerated to escape, then in a flash five speeding cheetahs caught up with the herd and targeted their victim. Within seconds, one of the cheetah was running parallel to a full grown wildebeest, and then boldly attempted to jump onto the rear of the fleeing herbivore. There was a brief mid-air struggle, as the wildebeest managed to escape and survive another day. The cheetah suddenly stopped, and rested after using much energy in that spectacular effort. We were able to witness scenes like this after following five cheetahs for three full days in the Maasai Mara, they are also locally famously known as the “tano bora” – meaning five best in Swahili. Seeing a cheetah run at full speed in real time is an almost surreal moment, those “speedy spots” virtually become a blur of action, as it then becomes very clear why the cheetah is the fastest mammal in the world. Simply speaking they are created for speed, with their long legs, sleek body, small head, and long tail that acts like a control rudder to rapid change direction. A running cheetah is a fantastic moment of perfected motion, a blurred streak of graceful ferocity and created beauty. They threaten no man and kill only for food. The world’s fastest animal is under threat from manmade developments, predators, and ecological change.

On another occasion, I looked over the plains not far from the Hyena dam in the Nairobi National Park, near the fence line a herd of Kongoni were feeding, to their left a whitish shape appeared in the long grass. The shape disappeared and then reappeared, then after looking through the binoculars, my heart leaped!!… was a cheetah!!! I drove closer and had a sighting of this cheetah stalking and chasing a herd of Kongoni. If only this was now, but sadly it was in January 2012. The last cheetah cub sighting was in April 2012 between junction No4 and No5. YES! Cheetah are the rarest cats in the Nairobi National Park. Ironically the exact place where the cheetah chased the Kongoni, is now in the area of the current Southern bypass highway.

It is difficult to say exactly how many cheetahs are still in the park, the good news is that a female cheetah has successfully managed to raise three cubs to be just over a year old. We had the privilege of seeing the young cheetahs early one morning as they climbed a tree, near junction no16 to get a better view of the area. They then climbed down and calmly crossed the road in front of us, as we sat quietly and enjoyed the wonderful sighting. The young cheetahs have been seen to already make their own kills. A lone male cheetah has been seen on rare occasions, it is hoped that this same mature female will also pair with the lone male resulting in a few more cheetah cubs. Years ago the park had a healthy population, sadly changes in their favorable environment caused them to disappear over a period of less than ten years. Cheetah are fast efficient hunters reaching speeds of close to 115kph, they are very sensitive to human developments and easily threatened by other large predators. There is known to be a fairly healthy population of more than twenty cheetahs south of the Nairobi National Park on the Athi-Kapiti plains. It would be very sad if Cheetah are no longer resident in the Nairobi National Park.

This article is highlighting cheetah as a species. Since 2010, December the 4th of any year is recognized as World Cheetah Day. Dr. Laurie Marker is the founder of Cheetah Conservation Fund. She designated December 4th as International Cheetah Day in remembrance of Khayam, a cheetah she raised from a cub at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. Dr. Marker brought Khayam to Namibia to determine if captive-born cheetahs could be taught to hunt. Their efforts were successful and eventually the pair returned to Oregon. But during this trip, Dr. Marker witnessed African farmers removing wild cheetahs from the landscape as a perceived threat. In 1990, she relocated to Namibia to mitigate the problem of farmer-cheetah conflict. Because of her interactions with Khayam, Dr. Marker dedicated her life to becoming the cheetah’s champion, and she chose December 4th as it is Khayam’s birthday for this important honor. The struggle to conserve cheetah in the wild continues in many African countries.

Unfortunately, like all species in the world, cheetah populations have crashed over the past century. At the start of the 20th century, the global population was estimated at 100,000 in the wild. Less than 100 years later, the population was reduced to only 15,000, then sadly in the first decade of the 21st century, there were only at 7,500, a 50 per cent reduction in global population. The most recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature report shows that there may be as few as 6,600 cheetahs remaining in only 29 populations in all of Africa. The Kenya cheetah population is critical to the survival of cheetahs in the wild. It is estimated between 800 and 1,200 adult cheetahs remain in Kenya, and that as much as 80% of the cheetah roam on private lands outside protected areas. The greatest threat for the remaining cheetahs is the rapid change of land use and their habitats therefore being reduced.

In Kenya, there are a number of protected areas where it is still possible to see cheetahs in the wild. The Maasai Mara conservation area has the highest density, followed by other areas like Laikipia, Ol Pejeta, Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, Amboseli National Park, Meru National Park, Nairobi National Park, and the Athi Kapiti plains. When we think of spotted animals, cheetahs are probably one of the first to come to mind. This defining feature is in the name cheetah, thought to be derived from the Hindu word ‘chita’ for ‘spotted one’. Cheetahs have about 2000 different spots and each has a unique pattern that can be used to uniquely identify individuals.

Yes, sadly it is so very true that the developments of mankind have indeed “cheated the cheetahs” of land they used to roam. We hope and pray that there will be a high level Kenyan government priority to save the cheetah, such that their future will not be going, going, gone! rather that their future will be going, going, onwards to surviving and thriving! Long live the “speedy spots”!!!


the speedy spots
Gareth Jones – A passionate writer & photographer


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