Meeting Ruka and Rafiki, the cheetah brothers in the Mara Triangle

Ruka and Rafiki gorging on their impala kill in Mara Triangle.

Ruka and Rafiki gorging on their impala kill in Mara Triangle.

Photo credit: Rupi Mangat

The world’s view from my Maasai-inspired room at the Mara Serena is of the great Savanna fringed by the Oloololo escarpment extending into the vastness of the Serengeti. Pint-sized Maasai giraffes stroll below in this ethereal space of open skies and plains.

And with that we set of with Dr Elena Chelysheva, founder of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project on a game drive in search of some of Mara’s cheetahs. It is mid-year, and the Mara grasses are awaiting the arrival of the wildebeest migration to arrive from the Serengeti to feast on it.

There’s everything here in the Garden of Eden – herds of elephants, buffaloes, zebra, antelopes and gazelles, giraffes, crocodiles and hippos in the Mara River and Mara’s famed black-maned lions.

Almost invisible, five tawny cats lie in deep slumber on the short green grass. It’s the lions. “We call them the Taliban,” tells William Wahome, the driver guide at Mara Serena who knows the family histories of the big cats in the Mara Triangle. “They are very successful hunters,” he continues.

From the comfort of our open-topped safari cruisers, the black-maned cats look nothing like furious blood-curling predators.

“These guys are nomadic, they belong to no pride,” Wahome goes on. “They are in the prime of their youth, five years old and were born here in the Egyptian Geese Pride.”

The Taliban 5 asleep in Mara Triangle.

The Taliban 5 asleep in Mara Triangle.

Photo credit: Rupi Mangat

It’s a comical name for a lion’s pride but the pride’s territory is by the water body that is a favourite of the geese.

The sun is low and still no cheetahs. A pair of Secretarybirds lands on a tree for the night. This large bird with an eagle-like body and the legs of a crane stalks the African grasslands in search of snakes, rodents and anything it can stomp on to devour. It’s called ‘secretary’ because it resembles the secretary of yore when they wrote using quill pens and wore black pants. Like so many animals of the African savannah, the Secretarybird joins the list of endangered wildlife as grasslands outside protected areas are converted for agriculture and urban centres.

The eventide turns the sky a blue-black. We order our cocktails on the verandah and then the magical moment. A full moon arises from the flat horizon – a gigantic silver disc unfazed by anything. Needless to say, everyone’s having selfies with the magical moon.

The following day, we are in luck.

Two cheetahs with their kill – a large impala complete with his long horns – something a lone cheetah may not be able to attack. The two pull and tear at the flesh, their muzzles red with blood, the impalas long pointed horns inanimate.

Our cheetah researcher is super excited.

“It’s Rafiki and Ruka,” she introduces them.

Elena knows the family of the two brothers from 2001. They are Rosetta's cubs and they have a sister, Risasi, born in the reserve. The family lineage is from the Serengeti and began to travel around the Mara, reaching the Triangle in May 2020.

The Mara Triangle rangers appear in their car. The job of the patrol team is to ensure the predators are not disturbed by too many cars and that they keep a respectable distance, otherwise, it stresses the cheetahs.

It’s made our day. Past the still sleeping Talibans and the crocodiles in the raging Mara River, the drive up the hill to the lodge stops at a wooded grove from where the Maasai warriors emerge in full glory with war cries. It’s a welcome to a bush dinner under the African skies - yummy.

More on Mara’s Cheetahs

The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem stretches over 40,000 sq. km, where every three to four months, new cheetahs appear in the Mara. Most often, these are young males wandering in search of suitable territories.

There are some eight adult cheetahs as of 2023 seen in the Mara Triangle. Read the intrigues of this spotted cat on the Mara-Meru FB page. Better still, contact Dr Elena for a talk on Mara’s cheetahs where she may accompany you and give a first-hand intro to them. She charges a fee and it’s worth it. You are no longer just looking at a cheetah but being introduced to one of the world’s most endangered cats.

Check in at Mara Serena, the luxury lodge in the heart of the Mara Triangle which boasts a bespoke spa and health club. It’s a novelty to hit the treadmill watching wildlife on the plains.