Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) tend to be solo hunters unless they are paired with siblings or are teaching their offspring.
They are the fastest land animal capable of accelerating to 40mph (64km/h) in three seconds! However they can only maintain this speed over distances of 460 m (1,500 ft). With a low body weight and relatively low psi bite they rely on speed to catch and trip their prey before suffocating them. The drawback is their agile physique is not built for fighting and unlike the leopard they also don’t carry their prey to other areas to feed. These facts limit how and where they eat a kill.
When encountering lions or other predators the cheetah will always back down to avoid injury. A broken born or torn muscle will mean that they cannot run and will most likely die of starvation.
After a kill a cheetah will eat as fast as possible on the spot. It knows that its time is limited and it has to avoid an encounter with a rival or predator. Typically they never finish any meal as vultures circling overhead and hyenas on the ground will soon take over.
I came across this female feeding on a Thompson gazelle. She had chased it from a group and caught up with it in a small grass patch. She was well hidden but a hyena had spotted the chase and was now making its way over. If there was a pack the cheetah would have no chance but this single hyena appeared to be in no rush and after moving every few feet would sit and wait.
The cheetah was beginning to act concerned and moved its kill more into the grass after seeing the hyena hoping to conceal it further. She had been feeding for at least 30 minutes, you could see her belly was very full, but still she kept eating, pausing now and then but in a dilemma not wanting to walk away from a good thing.
We were lucky to be able to get close to the scene as it was by the roadside. With only one other vehicle watching we also had our choice of angles from a distance of around 13 meters
Photographically the decision I had to make was which field of view would be better. Should I focus on using the long range zoom 300mm – 500mm for a single animal or switch to a wide/mid tele (28-300mm) so I can be sure to cover the hyena approaching and whatever action might occur? Of course with two bodies this becomes easier and I can create a story and hopefully some single strong standalone images.
Using a high res body 30MP+ also allows for cropping down from the same frame as long as you’re not overdoing it and hoping for a poster print reproduction. One other option is to simply switch between full frame and crop mode for the sensor which is easy to do on most professional bodies.
Cheetah vs Hyena Photo Gear:
Images shot on a Nikon D850 and D810
At a distance of 13 meters. The tight close up are shot using the Nikon 200-500 Mostly at F5.6 at an average 1/1000 iso 280. Wider and full length shots are with the Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6. This is the first time I have used this compact travel lens and found it to be quite good. I will review it in a future blog.
Hand held, shooting from the vehicle through the roof and window