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Terrified Baby Impala Becomes Young Cheetahs’ First Hunting Lesson

Professional guide and lodge owner Mikey Carr-Hartly was on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara, when he witnessed a remarkable encounter between a cheetah family and a young impala. “We were in an area of the southern Mara called Majani ya Chai, not far from Sala’s Camp,” said Mikey. “It’s the ideal habitat for cheetah because...

Professional guide and lodge owner Mikey Carr-Hartly was on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara, when he witnessed a remarkable encounter between a cheetah family and a young impala.

“We were in an area of the southern Mara called Majani ya Chai, not far from Sala’s Camp,” said Mikey. “It’s the ideal habitat for cheetah because of the croton thickets on the edges of the plains, which provide great cover for hunting animals.”

After scanning the area, Mikey finally spotted a female and two older cubs lying beside a bed of flowers in the shade of a croton thicket.

“It was hot, and we were not sure if the mother would bother hunting, but we decided to stick around to see if she would get up and move around.”

About half an hour later, the mother sprang up and bolted across the plain like a bullet into the thicket. She had spotted a baby impala and was on its trail.

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Cheetah grapples with a baby impala. Photo by Mikey Carr-Hartley

“To our amazement, instead of immediately killing the terrified animal, the female cheetah chased the young impala back across the plain, all the way to her clumsy teenagers who were still waiting by the termite mound.”

The younger cheetahs have not quite learned how to hunt, and this was obviously one of their first lessons.

She released the impala to the teenagers, who were bewildered and confused about what to do next. They first looked at each other, as if deciding, and finally, they gave chase.

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Learning curve: A confused young cheetah. Photo by Mikey Carr Hartley

“It was a cat and mouse situation,” said Mikey. “The bumbling cheetahs followed, tripped, waited and then followed the terrified animal again, before they eventually killed it.”

As cruel as this seems, it’s an important process for the cubs to learn how to chase and ‘ankle tap’ their prey, as well as the technique of suffocating the animal quickly.

“This will be essential for their survival in the future.”

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A Vulnerable male southern African cheetah, Acinoyx jubatus, at Zoo Miami. The photograph is one of thousands of portraits made by photographer Joel Sartore for the National Geographic Photo Ark, an ambitious project committed to documenting every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations.
A Vulnerable male southern African cheetah, Acinoyx jubatus, at Zoo Miami. The photograph is one of thousands of portraits made by photographer Joel Sartore for the National Geographic Photo Ark, an ambitious project committed to documenting every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations.

The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multi-year project to photograph all species in captivity. The cheetah is one of them. To learn more about the Photo Ark, visit natgeophotoark.org,

Follow the Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore and the National Geographic Photo Ark on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, and add your voice using #SaveTogether.

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Meet the Author

Paul Steyn
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram