hannes lochner (previously featured) spent two years and traveled over 100,000 km in the kalahari to document the nocturnal world of its animals. he slept in sweltering day heat, was stung by countless scorpions, and spent up to twenty hours a day in the field, which included sub zero night time winter temperatures.
hannes loves big cats, but notes that “due to the extreme rise and fall in temperature, you only get an hour at night and in the early morning to get pictures of the cats actually doing something. otherwise it is too hot.”
he adds, “the kalahari is very harsh and dry. there are extreme arid regions where only the fittest survive. i saw so many lions dying and cubs being left behind because food was so scarce. it is a difficult environment.”
notes photographer kendyball, "i had spent about three months [in kenya’s masai mara] with this cheetah mum and her cubs. it is hard to describe the love and affection of a cheetah mother and her young. the daily challenges to bring her offspring to adulthood is amazing.“
it is estimated that only five to ten thousand cheetahs may still be living in the wild, which is a 90 percent decline in the past 120 years. cheetahs require vast expanses of land for hunting, but now, thanks largely to human encroachment, can only be found in 23 percent of their historic range.
and unlike other big cats, cheetahs rely entirely on their speed for defence. as an evolutionary trade off for this speed, cheetahs have small canine teeth – which allows for a larger nasal passage to take in more air when running – and dull, small claws – which is great for running but so much for fighting.
female lions are the predominant caregivers to their young, and will nurse not only their own cubs but those of relatives in the pride if the litters are born close together. weaned between seven and ten months, cubs depend on the moms until they are at least sixteen months old.
but lions are vanishing from the wild. africa’s lion population has declined by 90 percent in the last 75 years, with their numbers plummeting from 450,000 only fifty years ago to less than 20,000 today.
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suzi eszterhas spent over two years following three cheetah families in kenya’s masai mara. her photos are chronicled in “a future for cheetahs.” here we see two mothers, one with her five twelve-day old cubs (2,3,6-9) and one with her six week old cub (1,4,5).
at birth, the tiny cubs are blind and weigh about 250 to 425 grams. they will live in a secluded den for the next six to eight weeks, being moved by their mom regularly from nest site to nest site to avoid predators.
the mortality rate for cheetahs under three months of age is 95 percent, and sadly all five of the cubs seen at twelve days old would die within the next week from predation by jackals and birds of prey. happily, the six week old cub seen here survived.
unlike other big cats, cheetahs rely entirely on their speed for defence. as an evolutionary trade off for this speed, cheetahs have small canine teeth – which allows for a larger nasal passage to take in more air when running – and dull, small claws – which is great for running but so much for fighting. this leaves slower cheetah cubs vulnerable to lions, leopard and hyenas, in addition to the aforementioned jackals and birds of prey.