“Nine O’clock, Cheetah on our left” Ken yells out as Gabriel and I spin our heads to see the elusive Cheetah not more than 25 yards away from our vehicle. The road is dusty and the windswept Serengeti reaches out for miles with dry grass in every direction to the horizon. Our guide “Gabby” as we call him for short, knows this is the area we are most likely to see a Cheetah as we arrive our first day in the plains after leaving Ngorongoro Crater earlier that morning. As one does a “Game Drive” you are always on the lookout for animals and many times I thought I saw a lion or larger animal to only have it be a rock. Our guide Gabby however, on many occasions could see the top of a lions head in the tall grass over a 100 yds. away.
Ken joined the tour with me so I could understand the business side to bring tour groups to Africa as well as understand animal behavior better. Ken was the former Director for the Honolulu Zoo and is such a wealth of knowledge at was at times mind boggling. Most animals we saw he knew not only amazing facts about each one, but could tell me scientific names of the most unusual birds or animals.
Quickly Gabby stops and immediately backs up and says that the Cheetah is eating a fresh kill and it’s most likely a Thompson Gazelle. Life can be a bit harsh in Africa as the food chain requires some animals to not always make it. Sure enough as we get a closer look with binoculars and the vehicle, he is right about it being dinner time. The Cheetah is completely oblivious to us and only occasionally looks up to make sure there are no other predators such as Hyenas trying to move it off it’s kill.
Gabby knows I need to get the best photos so he maneuvers the Landcruiser into the perfect position so I can start getting the once in a lifetime images with the beautiful light coming from the west. We are also fortunate there are no other vehicles around as the scene unfolds around just the three of us. Many times on safari there will be a sighting and guides will radio the other guides and before you know it there are fifteen vehicles all maneuvering for the best position to see the animal.
After awhile the Cheetah is done eating for a moment as evidenced by her big stomach. She saunters away from the meal and settles into the grass for a couple of minutes, only to stand up and look over the tall grasses to make sure she is still safe. Looking forward, to the side and behind every few minutes she always has to be aware of the surroundings and must eat fast because sooner or later a few Hyenas will show up to challenge her for what is left.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animal in the world and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 3 seconds. Their top speed of about 65 mph can only last about 20-60 seconds with only about half their chases being successful. Cheetahs originated about 4 million years ago, making it the oldest cat on the planet. As you look at one in its natural habitat, you are also caught by the beauty of the animal and the certain gracefulness they exhibit even when simply standing in the dry grass.
Eventually we move the vehicle to get one last great view before its time to move to our next destination. I’m truly stunned at this experience and seeing a Cheetah in the wild is a bonus, but to see one and be so close that you can almost count her whiskers is something that one can only dream about.
Slowly Gabby moves the vehicle towards the east as the dust kicks up, the wind and warmth of the sun reminding me once again that I really am in Africa.
Note: I spent two weeks in Africa on Safari in November 2014 and will be sharing many posts from that trip as time allows. As I write this I am in Amsterdam and then off to Istanbul, Turkey so the updates will be intermittent until after December 4th. If you are interested in joining me in 2015 for a trip to Africa please contact me via my contact page for more information.