Gordon learns about a family of cheetahs

Gordon Buchanan with wild cheetah Savannah and her cubs in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South AfricaGordon Buchanan with wild cheetah Savannah and her cubs in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Gordon Buchanan with wild cheetah Savannah and her cubs in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Tuesday: The Cheetah Family and Me; (BBC Two, 9pm)

Having spent time with groups of black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears, snow wolves, gorillas, elephants, reindeers and snow cats, among others, Gordon Buchanan is now focusing on a family of cheetahs.

Over the next two nights pressure to fall in love with the big cats, as the Scottish wildlife filmmaker heads to South Africa’s stunning Tswalu Kalahari Reserve to learn more about the threats that the world’s fastest land animal faces, both from nature and humans.

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Gordon meets cheetah expert and guide Richard Satekge, and together they track a mother cheetah called Savannah and four of her six-month-old cubs.

Savannah has already lost one cub to a leopard, and walking on foot in African reserves where predators prowl is the best way for the presenter to truly understand the dangers they face.

Following Savannah’s tracks in the sand, Gordon discovers her holding a freshly caught oryx in her jaws. She’s lost her cubs during the chase and she needs to find them quickly before their prey is stolen by bigger predators.

With four growing cubs to feed, Savannah is up against it, and to make her life even harder, the Kalahari has been in the grip of multi-year drought.

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The less food there is for antelopes and oryx, the less young they produce, meaning numbers dwindle and predators like cheetahs suffer

Around 800km to the south in the Samara Private Game Reserve in the Great Karoo Wilderness, cheetah guide Julius Mkhize follows Chili, another cheetah mother.

She has recently given birth to five tiny kittens and is also under pressure to feed her family. Samara has also experienced drought, but the recent rains have also brought a plague of locusts which are competing for food with Chili’s antelope prey.

Chili must follow the antelope, which have migrated away from the locusts, and her kittens must try to keep up, as she leads them on an epic journey through a valley filled with deadly lions, buffalo and elephants.

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Back up north in the Kalahari, Savannah was unsuccessful in catching an antelope, but the cubs have cornered an African wildcat, a small but lightning-fast cat with razor-sharp claws that could harm the young cheetahs.

Eventually they see sense and leave this predator well alone. Gordon wants to stay with them until they’ve properly fed, so he sleeps nearby under the Kalahari stars.

In the morning, Savannah and the cubs are nowhere to be seen and only three cub tracks can now be found – one cub is missing. The search for the family goes on for five days before Gordon receives the news he dreaded. A team of trackers has found the boldest youngster, Suma, has tragically been killed by a leopard.

Back in Samara, Chili’s risks seem to pay off as she finally makes a kill, successfully using the reserve’s fence to corner and catch an antelope.

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And in the Kalahari the rains finally arrive, breaking the multi-year drought.

Will this be the break that Savannah and her surviving three cubs badly need?

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