Thursday, February 18, 2016

One of THE Highlights of the Safari, A Moment that Almost Wasn't

How do you pick the best moment of a safari studded with star moments?  Well, guess when it comes down to it, I can still think of at least one or two extra special moments!

During our time on safari, we also went to Kruger National Park for a (very full) day to do our own self-drive safari, which was such a wonderful experience and will be a memory that we treasure forever.  That adventure gets its own (next) post!

But all of this is to say, when we got to Wednesday, the mid-point of our vacation and the fifth early morning of the trip, I was pretty tired and feeling reluctant about going on yet another 5:30 a.m. game drive, knowing that we still had to pack and get to the airport for our domestic flight to Capetown.  We even joked about it with another couple, that I would probably regret not going this one time, because of how these things go - the day you don't go on a safari, is the day everyone sees something amazing!

I was already feeling a little bummed that we missed out on the leopards at our lodge the day before because we were in Kruger.

Leopards are pretty hard to see, both because they are nocturnal and stealthy and because they are really well camouflaged.  On the reserve we stayed at, the leopards are harder to see because they can jump the fences - so they're not guaranteed to be within our area at any one time.  Oh, yeah, to help matters, they also like to hang out in leafy trees.

So I chose to sleep in, figuring the group had already seen leopards the previous day - what were the chances they would see them again?

Um, let this be a lesson!  The next morning I was sipping my coffee contentedly, when I noticed that the morning safari was very late in returning.  As each minute ticked by, I got more and more anxious.  I just KNEW they had spotted something fabulous.  

And guess what?  After they spotted two leopards only the day before, they spotted CHEETAHS that morning!  The famous "cheetah brothers" of the reserve - two male cheetahs who hang out together and hunt together.  Sitting down to breakfast, I thought I might succumb to my most childish urges and cry.

Luckily, one of our new couple friends was much better at problem solving and had no qualms about asking for things that they want.  They thought to ask the guides if they would be willing to quickly take a few of us out again, just to see the cheetahs.  The guides obliged.

And I got to see them!  Even more lucky for us, we got there just as the animals got restless, and they stood up and walked right in front of us, as they started scanning and prowling the horizon for prey.  

It. was. amazing.  A bit breathtaking, perhaps, but amazing.  I've never really considered myself a cat person (allergies and their eyes freak me out a little bit) but I am now the biggest fan.  Of big cats, that is.
Are you looking at me?
Cheetahs are very, very fast - they sustain speeds of up to 110 km/h for 400 meters.  However, surprisingly, they are known as the wimpier of the big cats!  The hierarchy is apparently lions, then leopards, then cheetahs.  
He perked up at our arrival

 We were allowed out of the jeep for this one!  Not sure why, as we seem like delicious, easy prey...
 But we were told not to get any closer than this very point.  We were also told to stay close together, because we didn't want the cheetahs to think one of us was an impala straying from the herd, or "easy picking."
When we arrived, the cats were starting to stir
Big cats are really just like house cats, except oh, they're wild… and bigger, and much more powerful.
Don't mind me, just grooming
Then they started to move!  One cheetah got up and started walking…giving us a little cause for concern.  You'll note one of the cheetahs has a collar (as does one of the lions) - the reserve had put those on the animals a long time ago for research and conservation purposes, but those collars are no longer active.
 They are beautiful, just beautiful, creatures.  So graceful but rather menacing at the same time!
 I think I got chills as this guy seemed to walk straight toward me.
 But he wasn't interested in what I had to offer.
 He had something else in mind...
Another thing while I've learned on safari - males are not good for very much in nature, except to be aggressive, fight and pee on things.
  Yep. Turns out this cheetah had wanted to mark his territory before moving on.
 Once he marked the spot to his satisfaction, both animals started prowling the plain for food.
However, they walked right by us and didn't even give us a second look.  Humans must really not be tasty, which is a good thing, a very good thing.
 We observed that this must be the reason this sprawling grassy plain was devoid of all other life that morning.
Cheetah brothers are on the hunt!
 The other animals are smart and know to stay far away from these two!
So… yeah.  To think I would have missed all of this.  I'm so grateful the guides agreed to take us back out again, and I'm so, so grateful I got to experience this magical encounter in the wild!

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