All-male Cheetah Pack Kill Leader in Bloody Coup

An all-male cheetah pack has attacked and killed their leader in a bloody coup.

Kenya's Tano Bora cheetah pack, which means 'the Magnificent Five' in the Maa language, is considered a force to be reckoned with in the Maasai Mara nature reserve because of their dominance over the territory.

Big cat experts had been observing this coalition for years, according to The Australian. The strong bond between the males, and the power they held over territory, challenged what many already knew about cheetah behavior.

Male cheetahs will often form partnerships with each other, usually with siblings, in order to better protect their territory. However large collations, such as the magnificent five, are extremely rare, as sooner or later it often becomes a competition for dominance.

The pack was made up of two brothers from one family and three from another. Olpadan became leader as he would initiate hunts and lead the group across rough terrain.

But the partnership was brought to an end when the members turned on the leader of the pack, Olpadan. He was found dead in January with wounds all over his body by wildlife photographer Jeffery Wu, who has been capturing the movements of the pack for several years.

In an Instagram post, Wu said Olpadan's four former allies ran from the scene with "bloody paws."

On Instagram, he said Olpadan had broken off from the group last year and formed a new partnership with a younger male, who the gang then had to compete with. This may have been the catalyst for January's gruesome coup.

Wu said male cheetahs will not tolerate other males in their area to compete with for breeding rights. "Even if it's a former mate of the group, that is the rule of the jungle," he said.

Wu said that officially, there is no more Tano Bora, there is only 'Nne Bora', which means 'The Magnificent Four.'

"Nature is cruel sometimes," Wu said.

Kim Young-Overton, cheetah program director for Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, told Newsweek that the leader may have been killed to protect resource availability, however it is hard to know the motive for sure.

"The alleged attack on the previous coalition leader does highlight just how little we know about this amazing cat and its social behavior," she said. "Most coalitions we see across cheetah range are two or three males together. Coalitions tend to last three to six years and mostly collapse through the death of one member. Five is definitely noteworthy but may not be abnormal."

Young-Overton said that the social dynamic of cheetahs likely changes depending on how much prey is available.

"For example, lion prides are considerably larger where protection is stronger and prey are more abundant," she said. "It may be no coincidence that in the Masaii Mara where protection is relatively better than elsewhere and prey availability is high, that such a large group is seen with a combination of non-litter [non-related] mates."

cheetah
A stock photo shows a collation of male cheetah. Male cheetah's usually stick to smaller groups or pairs. surbs279/Getty Images

Cheetahs are endangered. There are only estimated to be around 7,000 left in the world, and their population is decreasing. They face extinction pressure from climate change, hunting by humans, and loss of habitat, but they also have a low rate of reproductive success.

This means that competitions over breeding rights in male coalitions can be brutal, leading to coups such as this one.

Young-Overton said: "While stories of uniquely large cheetah coalitions like the Tano Bora might suggest the species is somewhat invincible or faring well in the wild, the truth is quite different...every male death is important as it reduces encounter rates between male and female cheetahs for breeding opportunities."

This article has been updated to include quotes from Dr. Kim Young-Overton