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.