We didn’t see the young reedbuck die. Henry, in the car ahead, noticed a commotion in the long grass by the river and stopped to watch. By the time we pulled abeam, the cheetah had made his sprint and brought down the lone stray. I understand that cheetah often play with their prey, letting them get up to run a little, then knocking them to the ground again until they tire of the game. But there was no such play this morning, and the reedbuck’s head hung limp from the cat’s jaws.
We watched from the cars, probably only 30 feet away, angling in and clicking away with our cameras while the cheetah caught its breath, heedless of its paying audience for this ancient and necessary – but still gruesome – daily spectacle.
I’ve seen animals die before, but what will stay with me was what happened next: there was a long, high yelp or cry of sorts – I don’t think I can find words for the sound – from further along in the tall grass, as a mother reedbuck leapt from cover. Her head was high as she jumped; she was not running – she was calling out, looking. One bound, then another as the cry stretched on: Where are you? Run! Flee! Even as she must have known that, except for the cat and a dozen gawking spectators, she was now alone in the bush.