I spent some time in the bush at the campsite with James and Ryan, tracking the Chocolate Girls since the release. Below is a journal I kept the three days Ryan and James were not with me (the 15th to the 18th September).
The girls are sleeping when I arrive (at 11H) because of the kill of an eland calf in the morning. I don’t really know these cats but my first feeling is that they are really used to people and we don’t matter of them (we are a bit over 15 meters from them). By the way, it’s quite easy to collect data and follow them but I hope they will lose this behaviour with the time and become more…wild.
In the morning, the cats walk on the road along the fence of Franz Indongo property then go into the bush, come back on the road…several times. Finally Hershey follows a warthog coming through a swing gate and then escaping through this same swing gate. She doesn’t seem to understand the mechanism of the swing gate and how the warthog is able to go through the fence (CCF is researching the effectiveness of swing gates to allow the movement of digging animals while stopping predators from going through fences, so this is good news). She ran after this warthog but was not really chasing. It was just an opportunity for her. She saw something running so she ran; more like a reflex. She did not really try to catch it.
My first feeling is that Chanel seems to be the most detached of the four girls. She tends to walk in the bush while the others are on the road, she likes to lie down alone sometimes.
This morning, for the first time (James told me), Hershey was aggressive toward us; Actually, we think that we surprised her and she wasn’t expecting to see something coming through the bush and appearing 10m away from her.
These cats look fit. They rest all day long and purr often (actually more often than I thought).
After resting all day, at 17h30, Chanel tracked and killed a female kudu. According to James, so far, it is always the same tactic: Chanel kills, Hershey opens the carcass, Toblerone keeps the prey down and Nestle watches. I wonder how long we will wait to see one of the others kill something. The sooner this happens, the better. Chanel can’t be the only one hunting!
It’s surprising to see that so far, the girls’ territory is just across the cheetah pens and the campsite. Is there a link ? Or just the vegetation and the prey density is better for them where they are now? We’ll have to keep an eye on that.
Early morning, we return to the carcass. The girls are still there. They have just eaten a part of the hindquarters. The kudu’s skin and meat of the kudu might be too hard. They struggle to eat. Nestle punctures the stomach when she tries to open the body. Scared by the noise, she runs off and gives up for a while! Obviously, they will need to acquire some experience! It will be interesting to see if they hunt a kudu again in the future and if they will become specialised for one or two species.
Finally at 9 they penetrated the back of the kudu but are not really eating. Are they not hungry? Don’t they like kudu (they have already eaten this meat in CCF’s pens)? Is the kudu sick? Fortunately there are no other predators in Bellebenno so these cats have all the time they want to eat and spend with the carcass. They are not in a rush; they have time to learn.
At 13h20, Hershey starts eating the face of this kudu (cheek). Toblerone is lying down next to the carcass and doesn’t seem to care; then she seems to become interested. Some small « fights » (swaps) between them. Toblerone waits at first, but finally bored she moves Hershey; however, Chanel comes and both of them stay in one side of the kudu, not eating, just struggling to have the kudu. Is it the expression of a dominant behavior –Toblerone chasing Hershey and then Chanel struggling with Toblerone?
After eating, for the first time since at least the release, Hershey and Chanel are grooming.
Finally, in the early evening, they give up this carcass. When they walk, sometimes, one of them loses the others and they vocalise to find the others. They appear to find comfort in being together.
Everything between 6 and 10 am. Afternoon and evening quiet. As we expected, the cats moved a lot this morning (5 or 6 km from 6 to 10 am). Sometimes running after something. They drank water at Sukkel Dam for a few minutes; Chanel more than the others. She seems to be more independent/solitary. This morning, she lies down 5 minutes while the others continue to walk and finally, the others came back vocalising. She seems to be closer to Toblerone, then Nestle and finally, Hershey in this order. Nestle seems to be the laziest.
So this morning they had water! Wild cheetahs are not supposed to drink often. This habit is probably an inheritance of their stay in captivity.