Pitch a lone red hartebeest against three ravenous cheetahs and you’d think the outcome would be clear. But what if the brave antelope doesn’t give up the fight? By Arnold Ras

When: 10 March 2018

Where: Mountain Zebra National Park

After last month’s hair-raising lion brawl in Mountain Zebra, this national park is yet again in the spotlight. This time round, three opportunistic cheetahs targeted a red hartebeest. But this photo sequence might very well shatter your preconceived ideas about predator and prey.

Although Wild traveller Gerhard Geldenhuys did not witness the initial pursuit, he arrived on the scene just in time. The red hartebeest was securely pinned down by two cheetahs while a third was resting in the distance. What Gerhard assumed to be a cheetah mom and her two sub-adult offspring was in fact three siblings.

Despite staring death in the face, the hartebeest had no intention of giving up easily. Gerhard watched in amazement as the antelope continued to struggle. Adding to the intrigue: why did the third cheetah not take part in the kill?

[Take note that the pictures below might upset sensitive readers.]

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (12)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (14)-min

“The subadults were seemingly not strong enough to throttle the hartebeest – it went down and got back up after several attempts to kill it. As the one cat inflicted horrific bites to the buck’s backside, the other desperately tried to kill it,” says Gerhard.

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (15)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (16)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (17)-min
Battered, bruised and exhausted, the hartebeest’s chances at survival became bleaker with every painful bite.

Nature can be cruel, but these cheetahs certainly bit off more than they could chew.
Wild Card member, Gerhard Geldenhuys

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (19)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (3)-min

Enough is enough!

“As the cheetahs gathered their strength, the hartebeest got up and ran away towards Rooiplaats Loop. The three cheetahs had to make peace with their failed attempt at finding food. We still wonder what happened to the wounded hartebeest.”

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (4)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (5)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (6)-min

Where’s cheetah #3?

With the third cheetah enjoying the shade of a nearby tree, Gerhard was left wondering why it hadn’t participated in the struggle. “As the badly injured hartebeest ran off in the direction of the uninvolved cheetah, the spotted cat got up with extreme difficulty and limped away.”

It’s then when Gerhard saw the cheetah’s wounds.

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (7)-min

Cheetah-red hartebeest-Mountain Zebra-Gerhard Geldenhuys (8)-min

More than meets the eye

Sergeant ranger Donovan Antonie of Mountain Zebra National Park says the cheetahs are in fact two brothers and a sister. “It’s the sister that’s injured. The three are the offspring of a cheetah called Angela and are a year and few months old. Guides found Angela a few days ago with new cubs – they could only spot two.”

Asked about the whereabouts of the injured cheetah, Donovan says: “We are sending out a team daily to look for them, but our efforts have been in vain. During a recent game census, we tracked their known territories extensively from the air, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. We believe she is still alive. Remember, this very cheetah made a full recovery after suffering a broken leg when she was much younger.”