Most often than not when you’re on safari, as soon as you’re picked up at the airstrip—assuming you fly into your location—your guide that greets you at the plane and then takes you on a lovely game drive before you head to your camp. The U.S. equivalent would be landing in Orlando and being whisked off to the heart of the Magic Kingdom before checking into your hotel. How awesome is that? After being trapped on a plane for what seems like forever thinking about all the wildlife I was going to see, I love that the powers that be don’t drag things out by requiring guests to do anything else first. And so it was on my return to the Mara Triangle in September. Sammy, my guide (you can read a little about him in this post) welcomed me with open arms, put my bags in the jeep and off we went to find us some fabulous animals to photograph, our first stop being a leopard he heard about that was in a tree a short distance away. (Sidenote: You may wonder, “How did he hear about it?” Guides speak to each other on their car radios. It’s the best way for them to keep abreast of the wildlife activity at any given time. Whether the speak with guides from their own camp, or guides from different lodges, It’s imperative that they share information so that they can offer the best experience possible for all the guests in the area. Otherwise, the bush is just too vast for any one person to have a handle on every animal’s movements—especially the predators—all the time.)
We pulled up to the tree and there she was, hidden between the leaves. The heat of the day was in full swing and the limb she was on was evidently comfy. We didn’t get the impression she was going to move anytime soon so we pressed on.
My second sighting of my first hour in the Mara was very special: a cheetah and her cubs (I’d never seen cheetah cubs before) were relaxing under a large bush at the base of a tree. Our angle wasn’t the best—there were a few other jeeps already there—but my angle wasn’t horrible either. To my delight, the cheetah placed herself directly between two bushes that would have otherwise blocked my view. (Thank you momma cheetah!)
We watched as the cubs scampered about playing with each other and gnawing on the twigs of the bush while the mother lounged sleepily next to them. Then….momma cheetah saw something. Both Sammy and I immediately turned in the direction she was looking and saw…….nothing. She however, with her bionic cheetah eyes, had locked on to a snack waiting to happen. She was instantly alert and stood up to investigate. As she left, her cubs hid themselves in the densest part of the foliage so as not be visible should a predator pass by while she was away.
Walking forward, she used a nearby termite mound to get a better look and then she was off, trotting towards the horizon until she became a tiny speck in our binoculars. Sammy said she was hunting and that her target was a gazelle. His trained eye could see it at that distance, I however, saw nothing but grass and dirt. He said that we should stay put and if the cheetah was successful, she’d bring the kill back to the cubs. So that’s what we did.
Within 10 minutes, she’d nabbed her prize and was carrying the unlucky Thomson’s gazelle back in her mouth. She made several stops along the way to rest and check out the area for any hyena or other predators that might be interested in stealing her food or following her back to the cubs.
Eventually she arrived and unceremoniously dropped the gazelle in front of the cubs who swarmed it. She laid alongside her kiddies waiting to see if they would be able to open their feast on their own. After a few minutes of unsuccessful carnage, momma cheetah used her considerable oral surgical skills to puncture the gazelle and then the cubs were off to the races!
At one point, one cheeky little scoundrel of a cub decided the gazelle wasn’t big enough for all of them, grabbed its head and started to drag it backwards away from the others. Momma cheetah wasn’t having it, and a bit of a tug of war ensued while his siblings desperately tried to latch on the remains. As one might expect the tiny thief lost the battle.
Once the happy family was well fed, the under-bush lounging commenced again with baths being the next order of business….