The Cheetah Mother’s 72 Hours : Part III

The intricate scars on a cheetah's leg reveal a hard life in the wild

I asked Cheetah Conservation Botswana’s researcher, Jane Horgan, why they needed to capture and collar a female cheetah.

“We wanted home range and movement data to look at the movements of cheetahs through the Ghanzi farmlands. Information about how far they move in a day, how large their home ranges are, how long they stay on one farm, etc is important for our problem animal control and for general conservation reference. Often you have farmers lose livestock then a week later they see a cheetah on their farm and shoot it thinking it is the perpetrator. The only problem is that most cheetahs move about 5km a day and some transient animals will be three farms away in a week’s time. We trapped the three boys in June and we also wanted to get data from a female too, that’s why we trapped in October. Males can be “territorial” (a lose term as they don’t defend these areas) or nomadic. Females do not have territories but very large home ranges (up to 4000km2) so their movements can be quite different. The information from the female caught in October will be interesting too because we will be able to compare her movements from when she has cubs to when the cubs go off on their own.

Set aside from humans, the cheetah mother wakes from anesthesia, to be released in the morning

Why was the second cheetah, the cub, not given a collar?

“In the end we decided not to do it because the cubs weren’t as old as we thought and it can be problematic collaring smaller cubs (because of the risk of strangulation), and because we at CCB do not have the funds, the collar that was for that cub was our last one that we had and we like to keep one in reserve just in case of a problem animal relocation where its imperative to track them after release (as relocation survival rates are very low). The final decision was made once our veterinarian Kyle was there and had taken a good look at the cub’s size.”


I can’t wait for these cats to be back out there, I’m starting to feel like we’ve pestered them enough.  One would think all the excitement already took place during the workup yesterday evening.  The whole point of this adventure is the release.  Will the collar work?  Will the groggy cheetah take off in that dramatic speed we all anticipate, the acceleration that outpaces the fastest sports car in existence?

All the moments of the last 72 hours blur together, everyone falls silent as Gavin, Phale and volunteer, Marjietta, approach the cheetah.  Phale & Marjietta stand on top of the cages waiting for Gavin’s signal to raise the gates at the same time.  The rest of us are positioned some fifty feet away, motionless with cameras at the ready.

A note about releasing cheetah; the cheetah will run as fast as possible away from the scene.  Unlike with a leopard who seeks immediate and terrifying revenge, the cheetah has no interest in lingering.  A wise choice in my opinion and selfishly I’m glad because it means I can get a view of the action without fearing for my safety.

The collared cheetah mother runs from the cage to return to her wild life with her cubs

The signal is given, the cages are opened.  A few seconds pass and the cub emits a loud, deep growl as it sprints off into the bush.  The mother hasn’t moved.  One very tense minute passes, no movement.  Kyle, the onsite veterinarian, approaches to see what is going on.  The cheetah started to fixate her gaze on Gavin, and was facing the opposite direction instead of the freedom right behind her.  One glance at Kyle, perhaps some dim memory of the woman with the anesthetic needle, and she turned right around and ran out.  For a fraction of a second, the mother cheetah in her dash to freedom looked at all of us, her head turned toward the distant audience in awe.  In mid-sprint from the cage she met our eyes, turned toward the bush where her cubs were waiting, and then she was gone.

Update on the cheetah mother: She has a territory that includes game and cattle farms and spends most of her time on the cattle farms. She is alive and well and Cheetah Conservation Botswana’s study is ongoing.

Update on the injured man from the car accident: The following day the police visited cheetah camp, returned the mattress and stretcher and thanked Cheetah Conservation Botswana for their help.  The injured man survived but with a broken pelvis.  The driver of the vehicle also stopped by to thank everyone.

Camp Manager of Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Gavin Reynolds and Ko Mogotlhong Game Farm Manager, Keith Bolton pose briefly before the cheetah wakes up.

All photos & video: Marcy Mendelson © 2012 /

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Marcy Mendelson (above) is a conservation photographer working on a project to help save the cheetah through visual storytelling and reportage of the hard work by fundraisers, farmers, NGOs and local communities. She will be traveling to Africa this coming fall and reporting to National Geographic News Watch in addition to her site, Cheetah-Watch. In the meantime, she resides in San Francisco, California and works with nonprofits like Cat Haven and Animal Ark in observation of the outreach they do with animal lovers eager to help and learn. More about Marcy’s photography and interests can be found on her website, Mendelson Images.