Watch Female Cheetah Fight Four Males in Brutal Courtship

A foursome of male cheetahs stalk the grasslands of South Africa's Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, unconcerned with the antelope standing on the nearby riverbed.

The cats have a more formidable target in mind: A female named Corrine, lounging in the distance. The crew inches toward her, their slow, calculated movements almost robotic.

A split second later, the world's fastest land animals dart for their unsuspecting target, clawing and jumping at the lone female for several minutes. (Read why cheetahs are dangerously close to extinction.)

Ria Van Greunen, who filmed the sudden brawl posted online in November, says the female suffered a gaping wound and bite punctures all over her back. Her mouth was full of blood.

"It was like watching a gangster movie, being outnumbered four to one," Van Gruenen told Latest Sightings, a website that encourages safari-goers to post their pictures and videos.

Love/Hate Relationship?

Gus Mills, a retired biologist and cheetah expert, says Van Gruenen witnessed a rare event.

Generally, when a female cheetah goes into estrus and is ready to reproduce, she'll deliberately urinate to attract a mate.

Sparring between a male and a female, like the kind caught on video, is a much less common courting technique, and can go on for an hour or more, says Mills, also an explorer with the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative.

The cats aren't territorial, Mills says, so it's likely the males wanted to see if Corrine was in estrus and ready to mate. (Read how a male cheetah bark can spur a female to ovulate.)

The size of the male four-cat coalition is unusually large, Mills adds. Groups of male cheetahs tend to only have two or three cats, and often consist of siblings who hunt and patrol together. Mills says the cats in this foursome could be brothers.

Corrine doesn't have cubs with her—"she's on her own again and she could be coming into estrus quite soon," he says.

Nine Lives

The female's injuries are not debilitating, and Mills predicts she'll be just fine.

Indeed, just days after the attack, Van Grunen says Corrine was spotted in the park—apparently recovering from her ordeal.

"We don't realize how tough those animals are," Mills says. "Wild animals are really pretty tough. They have to be."

<p>A young girl in 1920s Volendam, Netherlands, cradles a cat in her arms as she looks guardedly at the photographer.</p>

A young girl in 1920s Volendam, Netherlands, cradles a cat in her arms as she looks guardedly at the photographer.

Photograph by Donald McLeish, National Geographic

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