Adapted from a traditional Zulu story.

A long time ago, it was another hot and sunny day in Africa. A hunter was lying under the shade of a tree. He was lazy and decided that it was too hot to go hunting. Below him, in a grassy clearing of savannah, a herd of fat springbok were grazing on the grass. He watched the springbok, wishing he could have the meat without the work of hunting them.

Suddenly, he noticed a movement in the shadows next to the buck. Standing up and looking closely, he realised it was a cheetah looking for food. Slowly, she was moving closer and closer to the herd. A springbok had wondered from the herd and she singled it out. Suddenly, with a burst of energy, she sprang forward and chased the springbok with that magnificent cheetah speed. She caught the buck and quickly killed her prey.

She dragged her prey to a shady spot, where her three small cubs were waiting for her. The hunter looked on the cubs with envy, wishing he had someone to hunt for him. Then he had a wicked idea – he would steal one of the cubs and raise it to hunt for him.

During the twilight hours of the evening, the mother cheetah, leaving her cubs hidden in a bush, left for the waterhole. The hunter crept stealthily to the bushes where the cubs were hidden. After contemplating which cub to take, he decided to take all three – three were surely better than one.

The mother cheetah returned and discovered that her babies were gone – she was heartbroken. She cried so long and so loudly that her tears left dark streaks down her cheeks. An old man, hearing her cries, came to see what had left her so distressed.

He was a wise man and familiar with the ways of the animals. Upon discovering what the hunter had done, he was struck with anger. He returned to the village where he relayed what had happened to the elders of the tribe. The lazy hunter was exiled from the village and the cheetah cubs returned to their mother. But her weeping had stained her cheeks forever.

The real reason for the cheetah’s tear stains is to help reflect the sun’s glare when they are hunting.

In search of more reading? Here’s the cheetah vs the leopard!