The Next Generation of Nuts
Almond introduces us to her latest litter
The cheetahs in our study area tend to come from a few select lineages – this is because some females make better mothers than other females and good mothers tend to produce daughters who turn out to be good mothers themselves. One particularly successful lineage has been the Nut Family – so successful in fact that we have run out of nut themed names! Almond is the current shining star in the Nut Family, despite being only eight years old she has already raised several litters to independence. Her first litter was two males, known as Ties and Erris, her second was two females, Coconut and Butternut (not technically proper nut names but we’d run out!) and her most recent was another litter of two, this time a male and a female. This last litter only became independent in the last couple of months which is why they haven’t been named yet. This hasn’t stopped Almond however as within just a couple of months of my last sighting of her with her two full grown cubs, I saw her again, on her own but already lactating – suggesting she had cubs hidden away in a den somewhere! A couple of months later I saw her again lying in some long grass, I could see she was still lactating but I was a little worried as she seemed to still be on her own and by this time she should have had some cubs with her. I puzzled over this for a few minutes as I watched her trying to take advantage of the small amount of shade she could get by lying next to a big bushy bit of grass. Suddenly the grass started moving, even though all Almond was doing was lying down and panting, and then a little yellow face appeared peering through the grass at me and my Landrover! I was obviously very excited – despite all the time I spend out on the plains surveying the cheetahs I don’t actually get to see very small cubs often at all. We all sat looking at each other until the cub decided that I was probably ok as Almond wasn’t bothered by me and so came clambering out of the bush, it bumbled around for a while, using Almond as a climbing frame when I noticed that it wasn’t alone, there were another two little yellow faces that had appeared where the first one had been!
At that point I realised that me and the young family were not alone – about 200 metres away there was another cheetah calling and chirping. I think Almond had heard him and was lying low, hoping not to be noticed. After a while the young male lay down in some long grass to try and get out of the boiling midday sun, Almond immediately took the opportunity to start trying to slink away without being seen. She carefully stood up and, whilst staying close to the ground with her head down, started walking in the opposite direction. She couldn’t call the cubs without attracting attention so she went, assuming they’d follow. They sat and watched her for a little while, then realised they were meant to be following her and started trotting along in her wake, until for some unknown reason they all decided they didn’t want to go that way and started walking towards the male cheetah! You could almost see the look of total exasperation on Almond’s face when she realised that she had no choice but to follow them instead and hope for the best. The male soon saw her and immediately came running over to try and consort with Almond. Luckily for the cubs male cheetahs do not commit infanticide – due to the cheetah’s unique social system, males cannot ever be sure whether or not a litter of cubs is his or not therefore it doesn’t make sense for him to kill them as he cannot be sure if he is in fact killing his own offspring. Male cheetahs have no input in the raising of cubs and this young male seemed a little confused by the three tiny fluffy cubs! He kept trying to get Almond’s attention (she was doing her best to ignore him) but the cubs kept getting in the way and he wasn’t sure what to do with them, to the extent of hissing at the cubs and challenging them by slamming his front feet down on the ground. To begin with Almond wasn’t too happy about this and kept making sure she was between him and the cubs, but after a while when she had realised he wasn’t really posing any threat she just left him to it – the cubs meanwhile were just looking at him wondering what on earth he was doing!
After a while he recognised that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with Almond and he let them all wander off. The little family then went off and found a kopjes to spend the rest of the afternoon lounging around on, with one of the cubs even accidentally going swimming in a puddle!