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A Bad Day to be a Topi
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

Cheetahs on topiWhen we arrived they were already attached. All three of them, the brothers were back in action. I couldn’t believe it at first, how could cheetahs be hunting topi. You have to understand a topi is a large animal – similar size to a wildebeest or a small horse – it is the kind of animal I would expect a lion pride or hyena clan to bring down, but not cheetahs. Yet there I was watching it for real. Each cheetah had grabbed a leg and they were doing everything they could to bring down the topi. The cheetahs gnawed and clawed as they fought to stay attached. I wasn’t sure how they were going to actually kill the animal. Cheetahs generally have to strangle their prey. On a small gazelle that isn’t so complicated, but none of these boys were even near the windpipe. Then one went for it. With a lunge it wrapped itself around the neck and grabbed on. Horns near its delicate limbs, the cheetah scrambled to twist the topi and finally toppled it over. After the fall, the two brothers moved their chewing from the legs up to the soft belly. They were starting to eat before the animal had even expired. They had made a nice hole in the topi’s belly, just above the hindlimbs as the topi gave its last spasms of life. Its head came up in one last attempt at an escape, but it was no use. As the cheetah tightened its grip around the throat, the topi finally died. Then all three cheetahs sat momentarily in exhaustion, blood dripping from their furry lips.

As the cheetahs used their sharp teeth to further the incision into the carcass, a group of African white-backed vultures began to form. Nearly fifty as its peak, the birds sat eagerly along side their fellow scavengers the jackal and Marabou stork and waited patiently. Since it was already late afternoon, we decided to join them. Would the vultures really get to feed at this predator kill? When a hyena approached, I thought the vultures might have a chance. Rather than attack the rather defenseless cheetahs, the hyena decided to take a nap near by (and a few hours later after ran off and made a kill of its own with some fellow clan members). I guess three versus one isn’t great odds even when you are matching some of the strongest carnivore jaws (those of the hyena) with some of the weakest. As the sun sunk in the sky, it was time to go. The cheetahs had eaten nearly two-thirds of the topi and lay exhausted with bellies the size of basketballs. The vultures, whose numbers had dwindled throughout the afternoon, sat hungry – all their waiting for nothing.

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