What you need to know:
- Christened ‘Tano bora’, the male cheetah’s have been successfully hunting unusually large prey.
- The five cats comprised three brothers from one family and two from another.
For close to five years, a coalition of five cheetahs in the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve has stunned conservationists and tourists alike.
Christened ‘Tano bora’, the male cheetah’s have been successfully hunting unusually large prey and exhibiting rare group characteristics that have seen them feature in global films, documentaries and conservation magazines.
The five cats, comprising three brothers from one family and two from another, were first spotted out together in 2015 and have become a magnet for tourists as from 2016.
However, something strange happened to Tano Bora a couple of years later. Four of the cheetahs expelled one member of their highly celebrated clique.
The four, now christened ‘Nne Bora’, did not stop there. On Monday this week, ‘Nne Bora’ hunted down and killed the expelled member of their family, who was identified by wildlife enthusiasts as 'Orpadan'.
The sad turn of events has thrown the global community of wildlife aficionados into mourning.
Experts believe 'Orpadan', who was for four-and-a-half years the de facto group leader, was killed for breaking the group’s “territorial” code.
So profound was the sense of loss among wildlife buffs that some took to social media to mourn Orpadan, whose death comes as an anti-climax to a phenomenon that has since 2016 grown into a global sensation.
Vital attraction for years
Mara predator conservation programme had this to say on their Facebook page: “We have just been informed of a male cheetah who was killed by Nne bora. We identified the male as Orpadan. Very sad news indeed they finally got their way. Seems he didn’t want to leave their territory.”
According to East African Tour Guides and Drivers Association secretary Felix Migoya, the five cats that initially used to walk around and hunt together, had drawn admiration from far and wide.
"This coalition of cheetahs has been a vital attraction for years. I have seen them graduate from hunting small prey like Thompson's gazelles to larger prey like wildebeests and topis. The boys have been together until last year when they beat up and chased Orpadan out of the coalition when he went out of the group to go find a mate. I guess this was against the boys' code of conduct,” said Mr Migoya on phone from the Maasai Mara on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Migoya said the killed cheetah was for about four-and-a-half years the group leader, decision maker and instigator of attacks during hunting and always dominant over the others.
“Orpadan was killed in the third attack. There was another serious attack in 2019 in which he survived but lost one of his testicles. There has been bad blood between him and the other four members of the group,” he added.
Later, Mr Migoya added, Orpadan again tried to rejoin the group and a fierce fight ensued that left him with a serious right-eye injury that prompted the intervention of the Maasai Mara veterinary team.
“After the rejection, he lived in solitude but was occasionally seen in the company of a new male coalition that did not last long. He also hunted alone and kept off the former coalition,” he added.
Unusually large coalition
Mr Antony ole Tira, a veteran wildlife photographer at the national reserve told the Nation that the group attracted global attention because it is not common to find such a large number of big cats operating together.
“This male cheetahs’ coalition has become famous due to its unusually large coalition size and the many pictures and films it has featured in, as well as its success in going for big prey such as gnus, topis and zebras – just like a pride of lions does,” said Mr Tira.
The group of cheetahs has over the years been roaming the expansive space between Hammerkop in the western side of the Maasai Mara and Olare Orok Conservancy. They have reportedly marked the approximately 100 square kilometres of grassland as their territory.
Wildlife enthusiasts have variously described the cheetahs as agile, healthy and highly capable of employing group tactics. Their survival tactics have over the years become a spectacle for wildlife enthusiasts.
The cheetahs’ ages have been estimated at between seven and nine years, as they were first spotted hunting together without their parents in 2015.
The bold and energetic hunters can take down prey 10 times the size of any one of them, making them one of the most successful and famous coalitions in the Masai Mara.
Masai Mara Chief Park Warden James Sindiyo confirmed Orpadan's killing, but was quick to add that the exit of one of the cheetahs would not diminish the allure of the coalition. He described the remaining four as one of the main attractions at the reserve.
A cheetah is said to be the fastest land animal. It is capable of running at 80 – 128 km/h, with the fastest reliably recorded speeds being 93 and 98km/h. The capacity for high speed is attributed to features such as a light frame, long thin legs and a long tail.