Crouched in the long grass, her unwavering gaze fixed directly ahead, the world’s fastest land animal sits completely still.

A young gazelle grazing nearby has no idea it’s in the eye-line of a hungry cheetah with pestering cubs to feed.

She lunges forward, taking the outside track and closing in rapidly on her startled prey. But after less than 100m, she pulls away, as if running out of steam at the eleventh hour.

For the past two days we’ve been following Narasha – as she’s known to local guides – and her two cubs, wincing at her repeated failures to catch prey. Her belly is empty and she looks increasingly desperate. Yet now, when presented with the opportunity almost on a plate, she simply gives up.

What went wrong? Perplexed, we head back to our camp, carefully deconstructing the afternoon’s events like commentators conducting the post mortem of a football match.

But amid the kerfuffle and confusion, one thing is shaping up to be very clear – this is unlike any safari I’ve done before.

I’m travelling with Kicheche Camps, who operate three predominantly locally staffed camps in three of Kenya’s Masai Mara Conservancies, and for the next four days I am immersed in wildlife, observing animal behaviour in a way I imagine only Attenborough TV crews are able to do.

Located on the periphery of the Masai Mara National Park, the Conservancies are community-owned areas of land, leased from the local Maasai people and run by stakeholders. By offering financial benefits and employment opportunities, the camps have helped to significantly improve community awareness about the importance of conservation and protecting wildlife.

Relative peace and quiet is attracting an increasing number of animals to the Conservancies, with some of the Mara’s biggest lion prides now resident here.

We encounter one such 22-strong group at sunset, encircling a zeal of zebra. If they decide to attack, it will be a bloodbath – but the pride will be fed for the next few days.

With so many cubs, a stealthy kill was always going to be difficult, and it’s the young ones’ clumsy, whimpering calls that inevitably give the game away, causing the zebra to scarper.

That night as we sleep, another pride wanders through our camp, so close I can almost feel their heavy breath on the tent’s canvas walls. There are no fences here, or electric barriers, but our Maasai night-watchmen do an excellent job of calmly herding the pride along a different path.

The following morning, we run into Narasha, still urgently searching for food.

A cheetah’s eyesight is six times better than our own, and she clearly spots something before we do – a pregnant gazelle, an easy target.

Sitting very still in the long grass, she bides her time, waiting for the optimum moment. We’re desperate for her to succeed and even the vegetarian in our group is praying for a kill.

And when Narasha starts sprinting, this time we know she won’t give up.

In the last few seconds, the cubs appear, and grabbing the final moment of glory, they dive at the gazelle, tossing it into the air like a coin.

Narasha drags the kill to a mound and in a powerful display of maternal instinct and admirable self-control she walks casually away, allowing her cubs to feed while she keeps watch for hyenas and other scavengers. Despite her hunger, she’ll be the last to eat.

A meal of that size will last the family at least a couple of days, so for now, they are satisfied. But life in Africa’s Great Rift Valley is hard for a cheetah, and it could be another week before they eat again.

Our particular story might have reached a temporary conclusion, but tomorrow, no doubt, more dramas will unfold in the Mara.


Sarah Marshall was a guest of Kicheche Camps. Safari Consultants offers three nights full board at Kicheche Mara Camp (Mara North Conservancy) for £2,270pp including international flights, flights to the Masai Mara, transfers and conservancy fees.

Based on travel in June 2014. For more information about Kicheche Camps, visit

Paul Goldstein, co-owner of Kicheche and an award-winning wildlife photographer also runs photographic trips with Exodus. Visit