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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

A cheetah appears in the field. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender gives us a glimpse into life on the Maasai Mara through the eyes of the world’s fastest feline: the increasingly threatened Cheetah.


CURWOOD: The Cheetah is renowned for her grace, her beauty, and her speed. She’s slightly built, and not nearly as strong as the other great cats, but she can run as fast as 75 miles an hour in short bursts and that’s her main advantage. But if you are born to run, you need the space to do it. Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender says that throughout Africa the land is being fenced in. Still, Mark managed on several occasions to observe and delight in cheetah and her ways.

Cheetah © 2016 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

LENDER: Out in the valley of the Maara, Cheetah is ready to rise. Yawns. Turns over belly up. Tucks her paws, cat-like, against the fuselage of her chest. That tail that is the length of her from hip to shoulder curls, and unwinds. And with the weightless grace of all her kind rolls, onto her paws and strolls into the evening, that is day to her.

Plotting its next move, a cheetah perches on a termite mound. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Hidden in the tall grass is a termite mound. She knows the place. Has used it before. Looks back. Looks again (to be sure no one is watching) and in her long legged stride, climbs the steep sides and sits, head high, unblinking.

In these flat lands height is mountain and redoubt. Vantage point is safety. Line of sight, command. Seeing first determines who will eat today and who will not and whom among the seen … will be eaten. The crocodile at water’s edge pretending to be stone; leopard dropping from an overhanging limb without a sound; lion stalking close and stealthy on the plain, for each and every one of them the eye is life or death.

With Cheetah? The eye alone is not enough. Like light itself, Cheetah is a thing of speed! Speed is Cheetah’s second sight. Speed in short bursts is her edge, bright and sharp. Her claws wear, dulled and blunted to the stubby nails of a dog. Her jaws are weak, just wide enough for the small things she can run to ground. With Cheetah, that chase is everything.

A sleepy cheetah yawns amongst the grasses. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Cheetah owls her head: One side. The other side. Back again, searching. Nothing found she takes her time, stretches as she climbs down (hind legs and tail in the air, her belly low). Blade thin, she slips into the night like paper through the slot.

At a distance her head appears again, a spotted mask of light and dark, her stare as orange as the afterglow, her eyes unwavering.

The land turns black and white.

The grass whispers.

Cat … vanishes.

CURWOOD: And for photos and more, slip on over to our website, LOE.org.



Mark Seth Lender’s website

Mark Seth Lender’s fieldwork in the Maasai Mara was made possible by Donald Young Safaris


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