Charm of the Cheetah

Oh boyyyy it’s been a while! Apologies, friends – I had a bit of a realisation coming to the end of semester that I should probably take university a bit more seriously for just a moment.

Our women’s health and paediatrics rotations are now done, and as intense as they were, I can’t imagine studying anything else more stimulating. Oddly slightly sad to have finished, but glad to be on a little family getaway in Bright at the moment. Super refreshing to be out of the usual uni-work-sleep-exercise routine and experience some snow, fresh trails and amazing food, bevs and company for a few days.

________________________________________________________________________________


I was thinking – let’s take a little break from all these elephant escapades and talk about my absolute favourite animal in Africa for a bit; the cheetah.

From the very beginning of our trip, this was actually the number one animal on my checklist that I was dying to see.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of animals in Africa, the first two that come to mind are the cheetah and the rhinoceros. Strangely, the cheetah actually does not constitute one of the big five (the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and cape buffalo). In fact, this name was coined by game hunters, as these were known to be the five most challenging animals to hunt on foot. Nowadays, however, this term is most frequently associated with African safari company marketing.

Despite this, the cheetah is not to be underestimated. It is capable of spotting its prey at ridiculous distances. It is capable of reaching speeds of 110-120 km/hr. Only behind the African wild dog, it is the second most successful predator in Africa.

When tracking these elegant animals in the dusty savannah, KB was able to differentiate the cheetah’s paw prints from other wild cats, such as the leopard. Unlike other big cats, their paw prints are always accompanied by claw marks in the sand, as their claws are not retractable.

After scouring the vast plains of Moremi, Khwai and Savuti, I had essentially given up hope.

We deliberately explored ideal habitats for cheetahs – vast, short-grassed landscapes with the occasional termite mound to mount and appreciate a better view of potential prey. However, like the leopard, these are very elusive creatures. These are the most anxious of all the cats, as although the fastest and the most agile, they are also the weakest and the slenderest. They have a unique build with a flexible neck, and an especially keen eyes and sense of smell. Cheetahs position themselves downwind to sense predators well in advance, steering well clear of lions.

On day eight of the safari, the 11th December 2017, after we had just about resolved ourselves the the fact that this just may not be the trip when we would be able to witness this magnificent animal, we stumbled across not one, but TWO males lying in the grass in the dappled sunlight being filtered through a tree.

The males were laying in a particularly regal manner, resembling the Egyptian sphinx. They both had beautiful markings on their faces, as if black lines had been perfectly painted to connect their eyes to their mouth. The spots covering their agile bodies were differently-sized, unlike the leopard’s rosettes.

They were picture perfect, but alert as ever. They lay in almost perfect symmetry, looking in opposite directions and scanning the grassy plains, capable of turning their long necks 180 degrees around. If one were to close its eyes to doze, it would be fore no more than a couple of minutes. One eye would remain slightly open, and they would not even allow their heads to rest on the ground. Without the aggressive build of the lion or the ability to climb trees and flee predators such as the leopard, they may never be at complete ease.

At one point, one of them sat up, as if in first position with its hind legs and its front paws just in front, propping him perfectly upright. It began walking towards the tree under which it was just laying, and one could truly appreciate their different build compared to other wild cats, with their taller hind legs. The male investigated and marked his territory on the tree, before perching himself on the termite mound to yield a better view of his surroundings. I felt as though I was watching NatGeo documentary – he was that perfect.