The great swim

Buddhilini de Soyza's Image

Five male cheetahs strain against the current of the raging Talek River in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve.

A period of relentless, unseasonable rain at the end of 2019 caused the worst flooding local elders had ever known. Cheetahs are usually strong swimmers, but the unusually turbulent water of the flooded river posed a serious threat.

Dilini spent hours watching nervously from the opposite bank as the coalition, led by the lead male, searched for a suitable place to cross. Calmer stretches of water were likely to conceal lurking crocodiles while the more rapid parts could drag the cheetahs downstream with ease.

'Suddenly, the leader jumped in,' Dilini says, followed loyally by the other four. The strong torrents and underwater currents dragged the cheetahs almost 100 metres downstream.

Eventually, and to Dilini's relief, all five cheetahs made it safely to the other side.

This group is known as the Tano Bora, or 'magnificent five' by the Massai. It is rare to see a coalition as large as this, as male cheetahs are usually solitary or work in pairs, so this group have earned themselves fame on the world stage.

As a changing climate impacts weather patterns worldwide, this unique pack of cheetahs is likely to face more of these perilous situations.

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Behind the lens

Buddhilini de Soyza

Sri Lanka / Australia

Buddhilini is an investment banker, but wildlife and travel are her true love and the greatest gift her father has ever given her. She has been visiting national parks since she could walk, and photography was a natural extension of her love of nature. She wants to convey the beauty, complexity and wonder of the natural world, and hopes to inspire others to conserve our beautiful planet.

Image details

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
  • 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens at 400mm
  • 1/2000 sec at f5.6  •   ISO 640
  • Maasai Mara, Narok, Kenya
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