Why the Cheetah's Cheeks are Stained With Tears

A Story from Africa
Why the Cheetah's cheeks are stained with tears
Why the Cheetah’s Cheeks are Stained with Tears is a traditional story told by the Zulu people of southern Africa.
Kwasuka sukela (once upon a time), a lazy hunter sat under a tree watching a herd of springbok graze in a nearby field. He was so enjoying the shade of the tree and the gentle breeze that he didn’t feel like hunting. But, before long, the hunter noticed a cheetah approaching the herd — and the cheetah did feel like hunting.


The hunter watched the cheetah creep through the grass toward a small springbok who had wandered away from the herd. Suddenly, Cheetah sprang forward and ran so fast that the hunter could hardly see her. Cheetah was a great hunter, and she easily caught the little springbok.

The farmer watched the cheetah carry her prize to her three cubs who were waiting in a patch of shade nearby. 

The lazy hunter thought, “If I had someone who could hunt like that for me, I could spend every day napping in the shade of this tree.” 

Then, the hunter had an idea! 

He waited until the mother cheetah went to get a drink from the waterhole, and then he crept to where the three cubs were hidden, waiting for their mama to return. The cubs were too young to be frightened of the hunter. The hunter looked at the cheetah cubs, trying to decide which to steal. Finally, he decided to take all three — they would hunt for him and make his life easy!

When the mother cheetah returned to find that her cubs were gone, she was heartbroken. She wept and wailed and cried for her lost children. She cried all night and all the next day until her tears made dark stains down her cheeks. She cried so much and so noisily that an old man heard her and came to find out what was wrong.

When the old man learned what had happened and who was responsible, he went quickly to tell the village elders and told them about what the lazy hunter had done. 

The elders were furious! 

The lazy hunter was a thief, and he had dishonored the tribe by breaking with tradition: Hunters must use only their own strength and skill to hunt.

The villagers found the lazy hunter, ordered him to go far away for the rest of time, and brought the three cubs back to their mother. 

The mama cheetah and her cubs were overjoyed to be back together, safe and sound. But the mother cheetah’s face remained stained with tears forever. 

Cheetahs still wear those tear stained cheeks today to remind hunters to hunt honorably. 

Adapted by Dana Stewart from multiple sources, including this and this, plus “A world full of animal stories: 50 favourite animal folk tales, myths and legends,” McAllister and Aitch, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2017.

Parent/Caregiver Tip: Why the Cheetah’s Cheeks are Stained with Tears is a traditional story told by the Zulu people of southern Africa. This type of story is known as a “Pourquoi” tale  — a story that explains the reasons for natural occurrences. (Pourquoi is French for “Why”). The real reason that cheetahs have their distinctive facial markings is to reflect the glare of the sun while they are hunting. Cheetahs really are great hunters, as are the Zulu people!

Why the Cheetah's cheeks are stained with tears


Age Groups: Big Kids
Skills: Expression, Fine Motor, Global Citizenship


  • None  (or paper, pencil, and crayons)


  • Pourquoi means “Why” in French. A “Pourquoi Tale” is a made up story that explains why things are the way they are. Let’s read the African pourquoi tale called “Why the Cheetah’s Face is Stained with Tears.”
  • Let’s make up our own pourquoi tale about your favorite animal! Did you ever wonder why dogs pant with their tongues hanging out? Or why bunnies have long ears? Maybe we can explain how the pig’s tail became curly. Let’s imagine!
  • Let’s take turns telling parts of the story. I can write down the words you say or you can write the story yourself. Let’s illustrate!


Pourquoi - “Why” in French 
Tale - a story
Imagine - to form a mental image of something
Explain - to give the reason for something
Why the Cheetah's cheeks are stained with tears

You be the Mama

Age Groups: Little Kids
Skills: Empathy, Expression, Global Citizenship, Stories


  • Toys


  • Let’s read the story of “Why the Cheetah’s Cheeks are Stained with Tears."
  • Let’s act out the story! You pretend to be the cheetah mama and I will be the lazy hunter. What toys can we use to be your baby cheetah cubs?
  • How did the mama cheetah feel in the beginning of the story? How does she feel when she discovers that her babies are missing? How does she feel at the end of the story?
  • Let’s switch roles — I will pretend to be the mama cheetah and you pretend to be the hunter. How does the hunter feel?


Beginning - the start
End - the last part
Role - a part played 
Heartbroken - feeling of overwhelming sadness
Why the Cheetah's cheeks are stained with tears

Run Like a Cheetah

Age Groups: Big Kids, Little Kids, Toddlers
Skills: Global Citizenship, Gross Motor, Stories


  • None


  • Let’s read the story “Why the Cheetah’s Cheeks are Stained with Tears."
  • In the story, the mama cheetah runs really fast when she is hunting! Cheetahs run faster than any other animal on land! Let’s go outside and pretend to be a cheetah family.
  • Let’s run fast like cheetahs: Ready? Set? Go!


Fastest - with the most speed
Animal - a beast
Run - to go fast on foot