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Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 09:11 UK
Epic cheetah hunt filmed in HD
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Cheetah hunting ostrich

One band of brothers has developed a taste for ostrich

Stunning footage has been captured of three cheetahs cooperating to hunt and bring down an adult ostrich.

The high-definition (HD) film of the hunt was recorded by a BBC crew for the natural history series Life.

The behaviour could be unique among cheetahs, which are usually too slight to bring down such a formidable foe.

However, the three cheetahs, thought to be a band of brothers, have learnt how to routinely hunt this largest of birds.

Life producer Mr Adam Chapman describes how the film crew captured the cheetahs behaving in such a striking behaviour on camera.

An ostrich is big enough and strong enough to actually run with the cheetah on its back
BBC producer Adam Chapman

"It's in a place called the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. The main bit of Lewa is about 60 square miles, it's huge. Basically the wildlife comes and goes off it."

Ten years ago, three male cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) arrived in the area, which they soon made their territory.

Male cheetahs often form collations to defend a good hunting area and gain better access to females.

But while cheetahs are incredibly fast, they are so slight that even coalitions usually only attempt to hunt animals that a single male can bring down.

Cheetahs
Male cheetahs will often team up when hunting

However, these three brothers have learnt to hunt cooperatively, Mr Chapman explains.

"They are amazing on what they will take on," he says.

While researching and filming for Life, Chapman and his colleagues saw the cheetahs hunting the calves of common eland, one of the largest antelope in Africa.

"If they got really lucky they'd succeed, and if they got unlucky they'd get beaten up by the adult eland or chased off."

The team also saw the cats hunting injured oryx, which sport long sharp horns over 1m long.

"One of them was quite lucky not get skewered in the process. The cheetah are pretty cock sure. They chance their arm. And that's probably how they came to start taking ostriches routinely. By one of them giving it a go."

Cheetah running

The epic ostrich hunt was filmed in high-definition (HD) by BBC wildlife cameraman and presenter Simon King, who captured the event early one evening, after tracking the cheetahs for most of the day.

In the film, the three cheetahs can be seen stalking a male ostrich and giving chase, before breaking off midway to hunt an unsuspecting female ostrich instead.

One male cheetah jumps on the female ostrich's back, before the two other brothers join in to wrestle the huge bird to the ground.

Cheetah

"An ostrich is big enough and strong enough to actually run with the cheetah on its back," says Mr Chapman. "These three are hunting prey that it really takes their combined effort to pull down."

"There are a lot of cheetah in Africa, but however long I've been interested in these things, I've never heard of it before and I've certainly never seen it."

"What is special about it is they do it routinely, and they do it together."

The film crew say there is anecdotal evidence that the cheetahs may hunt in phase with the full moon, as it offers the best light at night.

The behaviour of the three cheetahs is so unique that it will likely die out with this particular band of brothers.

"When one of them pegs it and they are forced to stop doing it, that's it. There won't be another generation of Lewa cheetah hunting ostriches," says Mr Chapman.

The BBC series Life is broadcast at 2100BST on BBC One each week from Monday 12th October.



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