When the world’s fastest cat eyes the world’s biggest bird… Now that’s a hunt of epic proportions! By Arnold Ras

Wild Card traveller Ashlea Todd won’t soon forget her trip to the Kruger National Park. To begin with, she was surprised by a pride of lions, but South Africa’s flagship park had plenty more up its sleeve. Sure enough, two cheetahs graced her with their presence. The cheetahs’ relaxed stroll would soon turn into an action-packed hunt after the cats set their sights on an ostrich. Let’s just say this was no wild goose chase…

When: 27 August 2017
Where: Near Satara Rest Camp – junction of the S127 and H1-4

“Driving away from the lion sighting, we were surprised when two cheetahs crossed the road right in front of us. Little did we know how exciting and unforgettable the next 50 minutes would be,” says Ashlea.

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-1-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-2-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-3-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-4-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-5-min

Pictures by Ashlea Todd

The cheetahs positioned themselves on a slight rise, staring into the wilderness. What were they looking at so intently? “We realised the cats must have spotted an ostrich. One of the cheetahs quickly went into stalking mode, cautiously moving forward, crossing the road through a now growing number of vehicles. The second cheetah hung back nearly the entire time, seemingly a little daunted by the vehicles and the intended target. It was so still, I wonder whether the other visitors even knew it was there.”

An ostrich on the run

Ashlea tells Wild it did not take long for the optimistic cheetah to attack its prey. “It suddenly took off and connected with the back end of the ostrich. Chaos ensued. All we could see was a cheetah hanging on for dear life as it was being dragged through the bush – by an ostrich! The second cheetah took the lead and grabbed the ostrich from the front.”

We honestly didn’t think they would have any luck with the big bird.
– Ashlea Todd

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-6-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-7-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-8-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-9-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-10-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-11-min

Two heads are better than one, and with both cats tackling the big bird, the ostrich’s days were numbered. “There were feathers everywhere. The ostrich and cheetah duo were spinning in a blur and swear words were flying in our car. The cheetahs frantically bit at the ostrich’s legs until they managed to completely drag their prey to the ground.

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-12-min

Kruger-cheetah-ostrich-Ashlea Todd-13-min

“Once it was all over, they both sat up and rested, panting heavily and on the lookout for any potential threats to their success. After recovering from the action, the formidable team settled down to eat. For us it was time to leave to pack up camp.”

And those lions?

A curious Ashlea returned to the scene a few hours later. “Turns out those nearby lions moved in and stole the kill – we found the cheetahs further down the road. And with the lions now sleeping off their feast, white-headed vultures had moved in.”

Did you know?

  • In Kruger, these spotted cats feed mostly on abundant medium-sized antelope.
  • While female cheetahs are solitary, male cheetahs sometimes form coalitions (usually composed of brothers). By hunting together they can take down bigger prey than a sole cheetah. One or more will hold the prey down while another goes for the throat.
  • Yes, they are fast. So fast that an average chase during a successful hunt takes place over no more than 200 metres.
Additional source: Shaping Kruger. Mitch Reardon. Struik Nature. 2012.