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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper whenever you are able to do so.
Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper when you can safely.
You can also enjoy unlimited access to the best news from across Northern Ireland and the UK by subscribing to newsletter.co.uk
With a digital subscription, you can read more than five articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.