Of all Africa's big cats, cheetahs are among the most susceptible to lose their meals to opportunistic scavengers. Hyenas, jackals and vultures are the usual suspects, but most carnivores (and the occasional omnivore) will move in on a carcass if there's a chance they'll land a free lunch. While on a recent safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park, nature lovers Bob and Rosa Swart were lucky enough to witness a trio of cheetahs chasing down and dispatching a waterbuck in a dry riverbed. The sighting took a turn for the crazy, however, when the cats had to abandon their meal to make way for a pair of sizeable crocodiles that moved in to commandeer the kill.

The Swarts spotted the cheetahs in a dry riverbed outside Shingwedzi Camp in the north of the reserve. "Despite the intense heat, the cheetahs were alert and focused on something in the riverbed," the couple told Latest Sightings. An hour or so went by before a herd of waterbuck sauntered down to the riverbed, likely in search of a drink. With their cameras trained on the cats, the Swarts waited patiently for the inevitable outcome. 

"Suddenly, one of the cheetahs slunk off into the bush, and the other two sprang into action, chasing the waterbuck." the pair recalled. "Success at last! One of the cheetahs managed to catch a waterbuck, and the rest of the cheetahs joined in."

Cheetahs are typically solitary cats, but males – often from the same litter – may form coalitions for added security and to make it easier to chase down large prey. It's possible that these of cats grew up together and now share the hunting responsibilities. It's also possible that the trio is made up of a mom and her two subadult youngsters. Cubs will stay with their mothers for a year and half before heading off on their own, during which time mom will do the bulk of the hunting as her offspring learn the ropes.

The commotion of the chase attracted the attention of a pair of crocodiles basking in the riverbed beside the remaining pools of water. The cats barely had a chance to start eating their meal before the reptilian predators galumphed onto the scene to claim the carcass. 

"The crocodiles eventually intimidated the cheetahs, and they sprinted off away from their kill," the Swarts explained. "A total of 12 crocodiles appeared and went for the waterbuck kill. However, in the end, only the largest crocodile remained at the carcass, surrounded by vultures and other scavenging birds."

Nile crocodiles are unfussy eaters and gobble up just about anything they can wrap their jaws around. They are no strangers to carrion and will readily steal kills from rival predators or dine on carcasses that wind up in rivers or pools.

Top header image: Ferdinand Svehla, Flickr