July’s photographer of the month – Alison Mees

This month’s wildlife photography takeover has been provided by Alison Mees who, as well as being a fantastic wildlife photographer, is also a member of our Cheetah Communities and is a regular volunteer for CCF UK. Thanks to Alison!

Since I was a child I have had a fascination with Africa. After watching Born Free at the age of five I wanted my own lion cub and decided I wanted to live and work in Africa.

I watched all the wildlife programmes on TV, and the cheetah was the animal that fascinated me the most. It continues to fascinate me for the very same reasons – the amber eyes in the early sunlight and black tear drop marks on the face, the power in the sprint, how fragile the body is, all of these aspects made me fall in love and respect the cheetah.

I admire a mother cheetah – who bringing up her cubs as a single mum, against all the odds, hunting on her own, keeping herself and the cubs safe from lions and hyena. It really is a tough life being a cheetah.

Thirty years ago I took my first trip to Kenya, and fell in love with the wildlife experience, especially getting to see a cheetah in the wild. Over the years I have visited Africa, and for the last 16 years been fortunate to work in Africa in the safari industry, but also able to spend time photographing and observing cheetah. During this time I have dedicated my time working with cheetah researchers, giving them valuable information on my observations and photographs in the Serengeti and Masai Mara.

I have been a keen photographer from a young age and this has enabled me to collect photographs and data of the cheetah I have come across. I have been able to share my findings and stories with researchers and also the guests at the camps I have worked.

I feel it is important for people to understand cheetah, to be given knowledge and stories about the successes of cheetah conservation, as well as threats to their survival. This information exchange goes a long way to helping support the cheetah for the future – without this there may not be a cheetah in the wild for the future generations.

Here’s some of my cheetah photographs and stories:

Neema

Cheetah in the Serengeti and Masai Mara use termite mounds to scan across the open plains to look for prey, but also to check on predators i.e. hyena and lions. This photo is of Neema who was looking very pregnant at the time.

Kisaru

Kisaru is known as a supermom. She lost her first litter of cubs to hyena, mainly due to not moving the cubs on a regular basis. Lions and hyena very quickly learn where a cheetah will hide her cubs, and they want to eliminate the competition. Kisaru had six cubs in her second litter – she learnt from her mistakes and kept moving the cubs every couple of days. In the most recent update I’ve had, she has six cubs who are around 12 months of age. She has to hunt every day for her family, and slowly they are learning hunting skills from their mother.

Neema

I first came across this cheetah in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in 2015 when she was a tiny cub with her mother – Musiara. I have been lucky to observe and photograph Neema over the last few years. 

Ndutu Conservation Area in February is where you will find the great migration of wildebeest calves, making it a prime opportunity for predators. This cheetah cub and its three siblings had just finished feeding on a Thomson gazelle.

Jasiri, Kweli & Kuleta

Cheetah spend many hours grooming each other to reconfirm their family bond.

I first saw these cheetah at six weeks old with their mother Amani, who is a very experienced mother. Once these three became independent, they were not great hunters to start with and their main diet was scrub hares for a long time. The male was the better hunter of the three, but slowly they gained the skills to take down gazelle and impala.

In April 2020, their brother Jasiri left his two sisters to start his solitary life. I was very fortunate to watch and photograph these cubs to independence, following their life stories.

Mbili & Milele

These two are brothers – I first saw them in Mara North Conservancy in September 2017 with their sister, they had just dispersed from their mother. To start with they were very shy, had no home range/territory and would wander around with no purpose. Their hunting skills were not great to start with, taking very small prey. Their sister left them after a few months, and these two brothers have become magnificent boys. They are bold and strong, and they hunt together taking adult topi as their preferred prey. Their names Milele and Mbili mean ‘forever two’, as they have formed a coalition that they will stay in together forever.

Bruckmann

In the Serengeti, cheetah like to use the warmth of the Kopjes (granite rocks) for warmth and also as a vantage point to scan the open plains. Bruckmann was just waking up, ready to think about hunting. He spent a lot of time around Gol Kopje in Serengeti, one of my favourite areas.

If you would like to see more of Alison’s photography, please check out her website, Instagram or Facebook. She is also selling recycled photo cards and prints for Cheetah Conservation Fund UK, and can be contacted through her website for further information.

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