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Meeting the Super Cheetah Mom, Siligi and Her Cubs

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

When I learned that a cheetah named Siligi gave birth to seven cubs in Masai Mara, I decided to make a special trip to Masai Mara to witness this rare event in nature. It was also reported by the Daily Mail and several other media.

Masai Mara has been one of my favorite places for wildlife photography, I have been there several times before. It is truly a fascinating a dream place for photography. Due to the abundance of wildlife and unique landscape, there is no other place alike in the world.

My guide reminded me to bring rain coat before I left for Mara this time. He was not kidding. Of the seven days of my stay in Mara during this trip, it rained five days. It had been raining for a several weeks even before I arrived. Most of rivers in Mara had been flooded. We were driving in mud and swamp most of the time, it made the safari very difficult.

Once we checked in Mara Simba Lodge, we were heading to the place where Siligi and her cubs were seen in the past few days. It was a short drive, about 25 minutes to the site. The color of Masai Mara at this time was quite different from what I have seen in the past. Grass and bushes were all in lush green due to the recent abundant rainfall. The grass was very tall, it added some difficulty to photograph small animals. I could smell the savory smell of grass while the car passing by. I was so excited to be back in Mara, my heart was pounding.

Here you go, Siligi and her cubs. Unfortunately, she lost one cub just two days before I arrived. It was not unusual due to their low survival rate (about ten percent) to adulthood. This was her second litter, she had three cubs two years ago.

They had not have anything to eat for two days. My guide said that she might hunt Thompson's gazelle. But with time went on, the sky became dark, rain started.

Only six cub left.

Siligi was looking for prey, but she could not locate any potential target. The lighting became poor, we decided go back to the lodge. It seemed that they would go hunger that night.

The second morning, it was clear in the sky. We were hoping for better lighting to photograph Siligi and her cubs. On the way to siligi's hiding place, we saw four cheetahs, mother and her three young adult cubs. We started to follow them for a while, hoping that they would start to hunt.

Cheetah in morning sunlight.

Two cheetahs on a tree trunk, looking for prey.

After about two hours, we realized that they probably did not have any luck to find a target, we decided to go to see Siligi. Apparently she did not stay at her resting site from last night. It took us quite some time to find them. When we got there, we just missed a kill by Siligi. She dragged the gazelle to the cubs.

They had not had food for three days, so this was a quite a feast for them. The sunlight was getting harsh, we decided to go back to lodge to have lunch. After lunch and a short nap, we came back to Siligi and her cub. Apparently they had a nap too after the meal. The cubs were playing in a tree.

Do you know how to get down?

Hey, wait, you can't jump yet!

Since we already spent two days with Siligi and her cubs, we decided to spend a day to look for other photography opportunities on the third day. We drove to Black Rock area with hope of seeing the black Rock pride, a large group of lions with many cubs in this area. We drove over one hour in this area, could not locate the pride. Our guide saw this famous male leopard walking in the grass. We positioned out car and waited the leopard to walk close to us.

Male Leopard in black and white.

After taking a few photos of this male leopard, we decided to continue looking for the lion pride. We saw several vehicles in the valley, we knew they had found them. The pride consists of three male lions, five female lions and eight cubs. We only saw lionesses and cubs walking in the tall grass field. It was quite difficult for the cubs to walk in tall grass, adult lion walked on the road for a short period of time, I was able to get a few shots of the group. They looked quite hungry and fatigued. They kept walking in the grass, there was no potential prey in this area. We saw the clouds and rain was coming, we decided not to follow them.

Lioness and cubs walking on the road

We decided to go back to Siligi. The rain was pouring. The visibility became poor. We drove around the area where Siligi was yesterday, we could not find her. We saw two birds --grey crowned cranes in the pond. Out car almost got stuck in the mud twice.

We kept looking for Siligi. We finally found them quite far from their previous location. They hunkered down in the grass in the rain. The sky was dark and the rain was relentless. I tried to take a group photo, a family portrait without any luck. Most of the time, they kept heads down in the grass. Occasionally Siligi licked water off the cub's head.

The cub shaked water off its fur in the rain.

We spent a few hours there till it got dark. The rain continued. We had to leave with some disappointment. Well, we still could come back tomorrow.

The next day, the sky was clear at dawn. We left the lodge very early with a hope to find Siligi and spend the whole morning to photograph her and her cubs with good lighting. When we got there, they had moved again. We spend two hours in the vicinity and could not find them. I was so disappointed, it was one of the two days that we had good morning sunlight during our visit, but we could not find the cheetahs. My guide contacted the Cheetah Guardians, the park rangers who were assigned to watch Siligi and her cubs. They even did not know where Siligi and her cubs were.

My guide suggested that we should move on to find something else to photograph while the Cheetah Guardian were looking for Siligi. If we would hear any new from them, we would came back to photograph them.

So we decided to drive to Black Rock area again with hope of seeing lions on the top of rock formation. It turned out that it was a very dismaying morning. We drove another two hours in Black Rock area, could not found any animal or wildlife for the matter. The golden sunray shined on the grass and the rolling hills and valley, it was so serene. But I could not enjoy much of the scenery, my mind was focusing on finding the lions and getting good shots. It was truly strange morning. I learned the word "Hakuna" from my guide. He asked all the drivers he saw on the way, the answer was universal, " Hakuna"-- meaning "nothing" in Swahili. I could see his disappointing expression on his face, he felt he could have done better than this. I said "Hakuna-matata" to him, borrowing a fraise from the Lion King movie. He chuckled. He called the Cheetah Guardian, the answer was "Hakuna".

Finally, he got a news that two lions were mating in the field about 40 minutes away. We decided to go there since we did not have anything else to photograph. It was late morning already, the sun was high, the light was getting harsh. Supporizingly, we drove into fog when we arrived.

Male lion in the fog, Masai Mara

While we were photographing the mating lions, we learned that the famous Cheetah Five Brothers were nearby and contemplating a hunt. Actually, they just failed an earlier attempt. So we decided to catch their hunting activity. When we got there, there were about twenty vehicles there already. One of the cheetahs approached the sleeping topi slowly, while the other four cheetahs scattered in different directions to form a circle to enclose the topi. Suddenly the cheetah accelerated and charged to the topi, the topi started to run but it was too late, quickly the five cheetahs attacked the topi in different direction, it only took about one minute to take down the topi.

We then spent the rest of day trying to photograph a male lion. The male lions laid in the grass near a main road, it attracted numerous tourists due to easy access. Because of the excessive rainfalls, lots of tour vans could not go off road, this became an easy scenery for them. I found it was very difficult to photograph this male lion. It slept most of the time. It was very difficult to get a good angle due to so many cars. We waited till sunset, still did not get any luck. We did not hear anything about Siligi either for the whole day.

The next day it was cloudy with occasional showers. We decided to look for Siligi ourselves. We covered a large area the whole morning without success. The Cheetah Guardians were looking for them too. We started to worry about her and her cubs. There was report of sighting the Conservancy lion pride nearby in the past two days. This pride lions are famous for stealing cows from nearby cattle farmers. They could easily kill her or her cubs.

Early afternoon, we were called to help the Cheetah Guardians to tow a vehicle from a ditch. It turned out that vehicle belonged to a French family who were touring Masai Mara, they were looking for the cheetahs too. Their vehicle slided into the ditch behind a bush in the morning around eight o'clock. Their cell phone did not have signal. So they stayed in the vehicle for about 6 hours until the Cheetah Guardians passing by. They were supposed to have lunch in a different city, which is three hours away. They had to cut most of the bush away to clear the path. Then the two 4x4 vehicles connected in series to drag the sinking vehicle out of the ditch.

Since we did not spot Siligi for a second day, we decided to go back to the lodge for a late lunch. In the afternoon, we were told that the cheetah guardian finally found them. They had moved quite far away from previous position. We were so joyful at that moment, learned that Siligi and her cubs were sound and safe.

When we got there, we realized that this was a quite bushy area. It was somewhat difficult to photograph them. Most of the time, they stayed behind the bushes.

You! Copycat!

From the above photos, if you paid enough attention, you would have noticed that Siligi was constantly looking around. She was looking for prey. by this time, the sun was out. Light was getting brighter. Finally she aimed on one of the gazelles, but she was not successful.

The cubs continued playing in the bush.

The sun was setting behind the thin clouds. It casted an orange hue on the ground, on everything. I quickly clicked the shutter, it lasted only for a few minutes. The the darkness settled in.

We decided to stayed a little bit late till they settled down for the night.

The next morning, our last day at Mara, we arrived before the first light. Unfortunately it was very cloudy. It did not take us long to find them. They were still in sleep. We waited patiently until Siligi started to wake up. I finally was able to take a photo that I was longing for, a family portrait of Siligi and her cubs. I wished I would have had some golden sun-ray from the morning sun, but it was impossible due to the weather.

Six cheetah cubs

After yawning and stretching, suddenly, Siligi started to walked towards the river bank. We were somewhat puzzled by her move. It seemed that she wanted to cross the river. The area across the river is beyond the Mara Preserve, it belongs to local conservancy community. Due to the depth of the river and the current, it was impossible for our vehicle to follow her at this point. We had to take a detour to find a spot to drive across the river. When we arrived at the opposite site of the river, we lost her and her cubs. The landscape were full of bushes, it was very difficult to drive around and to see anything. My guide suddenly spotted her again, now she had a small gazelle with her, calling the cubs for breakfast. Now we realized that she probably had spotted the gazelle before she crossed the river. The cubs were very hungry, it did not take long for them to finish the small gazelle.

Mom, let me tell you something!

The cubs tried to eat anything left on the skin. Then they started to drag the gazelle skin and ran around.

While the cubs were playing , we lost sight of Siligi again. Then the cubs ran away and disappeared into the bushes. We started the search again, by the time we found her, she was holding a baby impala under a bush.

Suddenly, Siligi looked very nervous. She stared afar into the bushes. We looked around and did not see anything. Then the cubs arrived near her, they also appeared on high alert. Now we could see a lioness, standing behind the bushes, looking at Siligi and her cubs. Then the cubs chirped, ran into different directions away from the lioness.

Then Siligi barked against the lioness forcefully. The next unthinkable thing happened, Siligi charged and ran towards the lioness with high speed, our guide quickly turned the vehicle around the bush and tried to follow her, I saw the lioness fleeing away from Siligi. It was stunning, but I missed the shot!

After this, Siligi gathered her cubs and walked into the bushes. Even the park rangers were amazed by Siligi's bravery. She is truly a super mom!

We had to end out safari at this time to catch a flight back home.

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