It was the rarest, largest known, and most famous five-male-cheetah coalition in the World. Named 'Tano Bora', the magnificent cheetah coalition in the Maasai Mara National Reserve has astounded conservationists, tour guides and tourists alike.
The five cats, who were also christened 'The five Muskateers' comprising of three brothers from one family and two from another, have been successfully hunting enormous prey, becoming an iconic attraction to filmmakers, tourists and scientists from far and wide around the globe.
In 2016, they were five, then dropped to four after the leader - Olpadan - was found dead in January 2022.
In February this year, the four christened 'Nne Bora', were said to have hunted down and killed the second member who died of attacks leaving the group with only three partners.
Tour guides and drivers in reserve, who witnessed the last moments of the second loss in the group, said he was named Olarishani (peacemaker).
Unfortunately, they are now remaining two after the third member of the coalition known as 'Leboo' (a homestead member) was allegedly speared to death last week by herders near Talek river under unclear circumstances, which are still subject to investigations.
After the killing, 'The Magnificent Five' is no more and it's a new era of the 'Magnificent; hopefully, fully, they will stay. The two remaining members are christened 'Winda' and 'Olonyok'.
Like the other two who died ahead of him, so weighty is the loss among wildlife fans that some took to social media to mourn 'Leboo' whose death comes as an anti-climax to a phenomenon that has since 2015 grown into a global sensation - the human-wildlife conflict - that saw lions of the Mash pride poisoned.
Researchers say the coalition was unique since, after reaching adulthood, male cheetahs usually become solitary or maybe form a pair. Still, it was unprecedented to see a group of this size form a coalition that allowed them to hunt larger prey and protect their range.
Maasai Mara Chief Park Warden James Sindiyo confirmed the death saying the wildlife veterinarian had already done an autopsy. The report by the officer confirmed a spear thrown at close range ripped off the cat's abdomen, penetrating from the right side, damaging several internal organs, and killing it on the spot.
"According to an autopsy, examining the animal after death, it is evident a spear killed it. A necropsy's purpose is typically to determine the cause of death or the extent of a disease. This involves a careful process of dissection, observation, interpretation, and documentation, which took the vet about three days," Sindiyo said.
"Our Rangers were first to find the animal carcass the following morning and immediately alerted the vet, who rushed to the scene, carried out an autopsy and confirmed it was speared to death."
Sindiyio, who expressed sadness about the incident, said investigations into the killing are underway. The rangers and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) officers are contacting public barazas in Ilbaan and Talek villages neighbouring the park to establish the culprit.
"It is heart-wrenching since the cheaters had become used to people and vehicles, and they are known to be harmless, but we suspect some group of herders who have been hired by livestock farmers in this villagers and are new to the area to be behind the killing," Sindoyio said.
Cheetah coalition risks being wiped out
Tour guide Antony Tira says the coalition was formed in Dec 2016 at Olare Motorogi Conservancy, expressing fear that the coalition is getting smaller and would soon be extinct.
"In Our research, a partnership with wildlife biologist and film director Reinhard Radke culminated in his informative documentary aptly named "The Incredible Five", which we filmed over a period of two years, creating strong bonds in our hearts with each member of the group as we saw them grow from novice hunters to synchronized killing machines," Tira wrote.
After the death last week, Tira, a Co-Founder of Matira Bush Camp in the Mara, never said before, and perhaps never again in our lifetime, will we be privileged to witness such a spectacle that was the 'Tano Bora' so fragile and beautiful to look at, a photographer's dream and an antelope's worst nightmare.
"Tano Bora gifted us a fantastic six years of amazing moments, some captured on camera, but the most important ones are forever etched in our hearts. Last year we lost Olpadan, followed by Olarishani and for some months, we saw the rise of the Tatu Bora or Fast Three coalition. Unfortunately, just as we were getting used to it, we have also lost Leboo on the unfortunate incident," a sad Tira added.