Since arriving in Africa’s Masai Mara four years ago, the Tano Bora cheetah coalition has certainly made a big impression. As a fanatic of cats in all shapes and sizes, Sue van Winsen was interested to learn about the unusual bond between these five famous males.
There is something about a cheetah’s behavior that evokes a sense of fragility. Perhaps it’s their slender frame, or maybe it’s their shy demeanor and constant vigilance as they scout the horizon for signs of a threat in the form of a more powerful predator.
I think this is one of the reasons that the Fast Five, or Tano Bora – a coalition of five male cheetah – have captured the hearts and lenses of so many Mara aficionados and turned this perception on its head.
As the largest known male cheetah coalition in the Mara, the Tano Bora (which means ‘The Magnificent Five’ in Maa) has challenged many assumptions about typical cheetah behavior. Typically, once reaching adulthood, male cheetah will become solitary or perhaps join another to form a pair. It is very rare to see a group this large bonding together.
This formidable quintet, which have claimed the Mara as their stomping ground since 2016, have become known for their incredible take-downs of huge prey, making them a firm favorite for some of the most striking entries in The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year through the years. There are few scenes as remarkable as all of the Fast Five in full-speed pursuit, or mid-kill committing their full bodyweight to bring an adult wildebeest down to the ground.
Surprisingly, the five aren’t all brothers as some may assume – only two are known to have come from the same litter. And it is certain that one is a lone cheetah that joined the others despite no familial relationship.
Over the years, unique character traits of each of the individuals have emerged and they have been named accordingly. Olpadan (‘Great Shooter’ in Maa) was the leader of the group up until recently. He could also be a bit of a bully, with Olonyok (‘The one who puts efforts to achieve better results’ in Maa’) being the favorite target of his aggressive outbursts.
Olarishani (‘Judge’ in Maa) is not only a great hunter, but also the one who tends to come to the defense of his coalition-mates when squabbles arise. Always happy to go along with the general consensus is Leboo (‘The one who is always within a group in Maa), while Winda (‘Hunting’ in Kiswahili) certainly lives up to his name.
And despite clearly getting on each other’s nerves from time to time (in the most recent incident, Olpadan emerged with a rather serious injury to his nether regions courtesy of his coalition mates), the benefits of their collective power seem to outweigh the drawbacks: dominance over their territory, a higher success rate in taking down prey and their choice of a selection of adoring females.
While they usually separate to breed, sometimes multiple coalition members will mate with the same female, and the confusion over paternity once the cubs are born has meant that the Tano Bora males are less likely to attack the cubs they come across, always unsure whether it’s their kin or one of their coalition mate’s.
Being around six years’ old now – there is no doubt that the Tano Bora will continue to surprise us. And delight the photographers who have devoted themselves to immortalizing their story for the world to enjoy.