Tracking Mr. Special

One particular cheetah in the Kwando concession has dominated the territory for his lifetime, maybe eight years. He is known as Mr. Special because he has demonstrated a proclivity to climb trees in order to enhance his search for prey. Usually this is a trait reserved for leopards.

We saw Mr. Special quite frequently during our stay at Splash Camp in 2019, but usually watched him for maybe an hour at a time. On this visit we were alone with Big Tom and AT, and decided to track him until he caught a meal. So we followed him though grassy plains, water and some treed areas, pausing frequently to rest and look around. Starting at about 9 am, we did not leave him until about four.

We presume he attempted to catch something before nine, but we watched him try to catch a red lechwe, made two attempts to catch and eat a small warthog and then made a half hearted try at an impala. Since we saw him the next morning and he was still thin, obviously he had a very unsuccessful day.

Out of curiosity we asked Big Tom what the cheetah success rate was at catching prey. Interesting comments. Per Tom, lions are successful maybe 1 in 10 tries, leopards 1-2, and cheetahs 2-3. He said the wild dogs are more like 3-4, probably because of the pack and their speed and stamina.

So when we first encountered Mr. Special this day, he was sitting on a small rise perusing an area of tall grass and water at a number of red lechwes about a hundred yards away. He eventually rose, stalked through the grasses and made his move. Unfortunately the lechwes ran into the water – they are much more agile in water than the cheetah.


Ready to Hunt


Spotted Prey

The target – red lechwes


Resting and looking

He wandered around, crossed the airport runway and got on a rise to look around.

Then he spotted a mother warthog with her little one, gave chase, and actually caught the small warthog by the rear end. Then the mother went after him, he dropped the little one and took off., chasing the warthogs for a few minutes. Then he gave up. So he sat under a tree for about 45 minutes.

Then lo and behold, mama warthog decided to come back into the same area. And then the chase was on. First the cheetah chased after the two warthogs. Then mama turned the tables as she spun around and chased the cheetah for several hundred yards before giving up.

The cheetah by now is wearing down. After a rest he made a weak stab at an impala with no success. He then spent the next hour or so lying around and occasionally rising up to see if anything was around. Eventually he wandered away and paused to have a deep drink.

So while we watched for 7 hours, Mr. Special made four distinct efforts to catch his dinner to no avail. At this stage we also gave up and headed for the lodge. Tough day for a cheetah!

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