Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. This photo depicts the cheetah mother, Shakira, and her cubs. Of all the big cats, cheetahs are the most vulnerable when it comes to raising cubs. They are built to run - not to fight; they rarely scavenge and avoid contact with larger predators wherever possible. In 2004 we had watched Shakira and her daughter Duma (the only surviving cub of that litter), so we were thrilled to find her with six tiny cubs in the summer of 2008 close to Governor’s Camp airstrip not far from where we are based. At the time we were preparing to film Big Cat Live and shortly before the series aired one cub disappeared. Male cheetahs play no part in raising cubs, so Shakira was the focus of their world. They relied entirely on their mother for their safety and survival, and were mobile enough to follow her. Shakira was to become the star of the series and we watched in awe as she defended her cubs against the threat of the Marsh Pride male known as Romeo, and challenged the spotted hyenas who inevitably followed as she searched for prey. Shakira raised three of the cubs to maturity—all females—a great achievement in such a competitive landscape as the Mara. Cheetahs often lose entire litters to lions and hyenas either before or shortly after emerging from their den.
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