Cheating the odds in the Okavango Delta to raise cheetah cubs


Our Collective


Lauren Dold


Meet the "Supermom" of cheetahs

Cheetahs, with their slender frames and solitary tendencies, face formidable challenges in the wild. Competing against larger, more social predators like lions and hyenas, they’re at a distinct disadvantage. Studies reveal staggering mortality rates among cheetah cubs, with predation accounting for a significant portion of their deaths. The odds are stacked against these exquisite cats. When it comes down to it, it’s not strength, nor speed, nor camouflage that saves them, but a clever set of survival skills and fierce maternal instinct.


One particular female cheetah in the Okavango Delta defies all expectations of her species. In the private 22,000 ha Chitabe Concession, she roams the plains with her five sub-adult cubs, an astonishing achievement navigating the delicate balance between survival and nurturing. Here, in this pristine landscape, she finds the freedom essential for her success as both a hunter and a mother.

Wilderness Chitabe – a cheetah hotspot

Over the past year-and-a-half, guests at Wilderness Chitabe and Chitabe Lediba have cheered this cheetah on as she’s bravely fought to raise her cubs in an environment designed only for the strongest and fittest. The Chitabe Concession is situated south-east of Botswana’s Chief’s Island, bordering Moremi Game Reserve in the north and east, while the Santantadibe River and the Gomoti Channel make up the western and eastern boundaries. The mix of Kalahari sand, riverine woodlands, seasonal grasslands and permanent rivers and lagoons provide the ideal habitat for cheetahs, quite possibly a key factor contributing to this female’s success as a mother.


If Chitabe is ideal for cheetahs, it’s heaven for lions, leopards and hyenas. In places where these greater predators thrive, cheetahs are typically outnumbered, outpowered, and forced to adapt. Though excellent hunters who can outpace even the strongest of predators, cheetahs often fall victim to kleptoparisitism – losing their prey to other, thieving predators.



But Chitabe’s Supermom doesn't just protect her cubs; she seems to teach them the art of survival. With breathtaking speed and agility, she leads them on hunts across the open plains, demonstrating the techniques they'll need to thrive in the unforgiving environment. It's a masterclass in the art of the hunt; as she catches her prey she also allows the cubs time to practice before going for the throat.

A mother’s love

By March of 2023, Supermom had successfully protected all six cubs, then eight months old. Given that cheetahs typically only have between one and six cubs per litter, this was already a remarkable feat.


Only beginning to learn hunting skills and still incredibly vulnerable at eight months old, the cubs relied on their mother’s bravery in encounters with other predators. Typically, cheetahs will submit to larger predators; fighting is not an option when any injury would compromise their ability to hunt. Despite this, Chitabe guests watched as Supermom faced off against a male leopard and a female hyena in one day.



“A large male leopard suddenly appeared walking towards them without fear, which forced their mother to risk her own life to protect her family. Although she knew very well that she was not strong enough to subdue a full-grown male leopard, she still took the initiative and seemed to welcome the challenge. We watched her as she quickly and decisively positioned herself between the potential danger and her cubs, persistently intimidating and driving off the leopard to ensure their safety. Each time the leopard moved closer she charged at him to keep him at bay.


“After fleeing to safety away from the bold male leopard, she continued with her hunting mission, following a herd of impalas that were unaware of her presence. She singled out her target and took off for a successful kill. But little did she know that she had unwanted company and she would be dealing with another ordeal on this day. This time it was a large female hyena. She knows her enemies very well; who to confront and who to be submissive to. Her kill was quickly taken away by the hyena before she had even tasted it”, shares Chitabe Lediba camp manager Moalosi Levi.

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Though particularly adept at teaching, protecting and nurturing her cubs, by July Supermom had lost one to a lion. Out hunting, she caught an impala and offered it to the cubs as a learning exercise, an opportunity for them to learn how to kill. One of the male cubs took the lead and attacked, but was overpowered by the impala who dragged him around a termite mound where a lioness was waiting.



Encounters with lions in this part of the Okavango Delta are frequent, and in the face of loss, Supermom adapted to keep her cubs safe from these opportunistic predators. On later occasions, she was observed diverting lions away from where her cubs were hidden, purposefully running in the opposite direction of the cubs who had learned to stay quiet and still. Moving only when it was safe and taking a long loop away from the lions, they reunited with their mother.


By December, sightings of a separate cheetah with five younger cubs of her own became frequent near Chitabe. On one occasion, the day before World Cheetah day on 4 December, Chitabe and Chitabe Lediba guests were treated to a sighting of no fewer than 11 cheetahs all at once; the two females, their 10 collective cubs and a juvenile male who had begun moving with Supermom and her offspring.



“The juvenile male’s arrival was particularly interesting”, adds Moalosi. “One afternoon Supermom had been very active, our guests and guides were watching her and her juveniles, when suddenly a male cheetah approached them. Out of fear and not sure of his intentions, Supermom responded with aggression towards him, and there was a short moment of snarling and growling from her juveniles trying to intimidate the lone male. He tucked in his tail submissively, and this worked out very well for him. He followed the family around until they accepted him and he became one of them. This is extremely rare behaviour and almost never seen, so you can imagine how it astounded and delighted our guides and guests”.

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At the start of 2024, Supermom’s five cubs finally ventured out on their own. Though not yet fully mature (cheetahs are considered adolescent at 18 months and adult at 24 months), the cubs will remain together for some time before finally separating and establishing their own territories. The next few months of their lives will be telling; without the constant protection of their mother, they’ll have to apply the skills they’ve been taught to navigate the ways of the wild in the Okavango Delta.


Wilderness Chitabe and Chitabe Lediba have become the home of cheetahs

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