"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch. 13, Growing Up Cheetah on the Masai Mara

Chapter 13
Growing Up Cheetah on the Masai Mara

I love cheetahs. Every moment of every day is spent in fear of dying a terrible death yet they always carry themselves elegantly, remain loyal to their family, and never complain about anything.
Gregor Collins

“Cheep.   Cheep.   Cheep.”   I look around for nearby birds.

“Cheep.”   No bird is making that sound.   A ten-month old cheetah standing atop an old termite mound is calling to its mother, who is nowhere in sight.   A short distance away, its sibling is anxiously looking towards the line of bushes, also trying to find mommy.

Mommy, Amani, was on the hunt, and this time the two cubs didn’t interfere and ruin it.   But they are distressed.

The whole scene began when we came upon the cheetah far out in the Mara.   We drove around a big loop in the dirt road, trying to get close enough for photos.   The cats were lying down when we first spotted them, but eventually they began to move downhill towards a herd of impala.

The cheetahs are lying down above and a bit to the left of the green shrubs in lower right.   Those round gray things around there aren't rocks.   They are guinea fowl.  

Apparently chicken isn't on today's menu.

Black-shouldered kite

They disappear behind a long row of bushes, so our guide drives down towards the impalas.   Nothing happens.   The impalas obviously haven’t spotted a cheetah.

Oblivious impala

We drive back uphill and find the cubs looking for Amani.   Each sits atop a termite mound looking all around and listening.

How close?   The brown area at right is the canvas side cover of our safari vehicle, rolled and tied open.

“Cheep.   Cheep.   Cheep.”

I had no idea a cat could make that sound.


When cheetah mothers think their cubs are old enough to be on their own, she uses tactics to abandon them, like catching prey and disappearing while they are eating or sleeping.

Male cubs independent around 16 months of age, while females often stay with their mother until 24 months.   That is not carved in red dirt of the Mara, because other factors can intervene, such as an adult male cheetah running the cubs off.

Life is hard for cheetahs.   Hyenas and other predators will steal their pray.    

Cheetahs are fast, capable of reaching 45mph in 2.5 seconds, and can sustain its top speed of 64 mph only briefly.    While a cheetah's body is 3.5 to 4.5 in length, their tails almost double its total length. 

They weigh between 77 and 143 lbs.

Male cheetahs are social animals, often joining with other males--usually brothers--in a group called a coalition.   Females, however, prefer a solitary life, other than when raising her cubs.

There is a high mortality rate for cheetah cubs, and they are often eaten by lions and hyenas.

The cats are built for speed, with an extra-large heart, nostrils and lungs, and their physical structure is aerodynamic.  Cubs have manes down the back of the neck called a mantle, which is thought to offer protection by appearing to be a honey badger, or adding to their ability to hide in long grass.

The cheetah population is considered to be in decline worldwide.

Today, however, mom has caught a meal and the cubs are soon reunited with her in the dense brush, but they had some anxious moments.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch. Stripes and Fights on the Masai Mara

Chapter 12
Stripes and Fights on the Masai Mara

Long ago, Africa was very hot and all the waterholes but one dried up, which was guarded by a baboon who would not let anyone  drink from it.
One day a zebra and his son came to drink and the baboon barked, “Go away.   I am the Lord of this water.”
The young zebra and the baboon got in a fight, and back and forth they went, raising a huge cloud of dust, until the zebra, with a mighty kick, sent the baboon flying high in the rocks.   The baboon landed on his seat, taking off all the hair.
The tired and battered young zebra, not looking where he was going, staggered backwards into the baboon’s fire which left long black scorch marks all over his white fur.
The baboon to this day holds its tail up high to ease the smarting of their rock-burned bottoms.—African fable

Behold the zebra.  Still wearing the scorch marks of its ancestors.   But it seems to have come to some detante with the baboon, or perhaps the zebra is too busy fighting other zebras to notice the baboons.


The baboon, however, is still an obnoxious and troublesome creature, probably because its bum is bare and that’s rather embarrassing, wouldn’t you think.?

All you have to do is watch a group of zebras and pretty soon a couple of them will start fighting, biting the other’s leg, knocking it off balance, kicking, and rearing.

Apparently the baboon is all over losing the waterhole to the zebra.

And some other zebras.....

You’d think a third zebra would intervene and stop the fight, because after all it is wearing the traditional black and white of a referee.   But, no, ‘tis the zebra’s nature to fight and have some fun.

Some fun, fighting in that heat.   Actually, though, it’s thought that the zebra’s stripes help it stay cool.  Air passing over the black stripes moves faster and air over white stripes slower and the two create a convection of cooling air.  Not quite like a convection oven, but you get the idea.

Zebra foals, however, can steal your heart:

The usual view of zebras--butt first.

Zebras can run really fast, which helps a whole bunch when lions or leopards or hyenas are inviting them to be lunch.   When the guys in stripes bunch up, they appear to be a flickering mass of stripes, confusing the predator who is then unable to pick out a solitary zebra.

When attacked by wild dogs, zebras form a circle around the foals to protect them.

There are times, though, when zebras are quite well behaved and considerate.   For instance, when they find a nice patch of dirt.   They line up and patiently wait their turn to roll in the dust, one after the other, no one butting in line or shoving for a better position.



When a zebra is alone and a predator gives chase, the zebra runs a zigzag pattern to confuse the predator.   It’s all about subterfuge, those stripes, which is something I noticed when Seattle played Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl and Seattle had to play against the zebras, too

Zebras do, however, appreciate my jokes.


Here they go again. 

Enough with the fighting, guys.

Zebras are in tune with their environment.   A log comes in handy as a chin scratcher.

Or a bum scratcher.

Zebras and Cape buffalo, along with other grazing animals, have symbiotic relationships with this bird as well as red-billed oxpeckers.   The birds clean ticks and other insects from the animals.

The red-billed oxpecker subsists entirely on substances found on zebras, Cape buffalo, and other animals.   Everything from mucus to ticks.

Note how the zebra in the background tend to look gray.

With a Thompson's gazelle.

Scratching the chin on the creek bank.

Or the side on the other bank.

Zebras often rest their heads on another zebra.   Kind of a "I'll watch your back, you watch mine."

Not yet, Little Guy.

Pretty soon you'll be big enough.

Sorry, zebra.   Lilac breasted rollers trump everything else.

Zebras get themselves into trouble.   This one has a wire snare around its neck.

Moses promised us the Masai Mara vets would remove it.

The zebras are going to bed now.   Say goodbye.