I had heard the spotted cats were particularly difficult to see on a safari. After our luck with lions, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Surely we wouldn’t see all of your typical game park animals in just four days … or would we? Despite my concerns, on the first morning’s drive, we stumbled upon a leopard hiding in the brush.
Leopards are notoriously shy, and he never came out of the clearing, so we were stuck staring at his backside amidst a smattering of foliage. Then, someone from the lodge radioed our driver Dyke to let us know a cheetah was in the area. We sped off and, minutes later, came to find a lone cheetah shading herself beneath a tree.
Much like the lions, she (he?) seemed completely unconcerned about our presence. After some more zebras and giraffes, antelope and buzzards, we returned to the lodge for lunch and our afternoon rest. The afternoon drive started in the high heat of the afternoon, a time when many animals are sleeping or tucked away from the harsh African sun. That’s usually what happens at least. This time, we returned to the tree where we first spotted Mama Cheetah to find she was, indeed, a mother.
Two little cubs lounged in the grass, blinking calmly.
Mom and another half-grown cheetah (Dad perhaps? more likely the teenage son upon further inspection) scanned the perimeter for possible enemies.
While I thought the giraffes were my favorite, the cheetahs quickly jumped up to the top spot in my mind.
There’s just something about them that exudes grace and elegance: their carefully placed spots, their long, lean bodies. And they can run like the wind, catching speeds of 90 miles per hour. I could use a little of that speed in my next marathon! Much like the lions, I had to restrain myself from jumping out and giving them a squeeze.
Tell me you don’t want to give this little kitty a hug?
The fearsome foursome kept repositioning their bodies every few seconds in statuesque positions; I swear they were posing for me.
Then Mama spotted something not to her liking and got up and starting stalking over that way.
She paused to look me square in the eye, as if to say: “Don’t worry, I’ve got this covered.”
Got it, Mama. I’ll leave you to your own devices.
Teenage Kitty followed, then the babies got up and scampered off after them.
I was so sad to see the Cheetah Family leave, but it was for the best as I don’t think I would have moved from that spot all day long.
The afternoon drives would last from 3pm to 7pm, sometimes even longer. We were in South Africa in the fall, meaning it would fall dark around 5:30pm and the second half of our nightly drive would be under a veil of darkness. That night, after our cheetah-filled afternoon, we were radioed that a leopard was prowling the area. Our proactive driver took off in pursuit of the leopard. It wasn’t long until we spotted him.
As I mentioned before, leopards are shy and not as chill as the cheetahs. We chased him through a field, down into a dried-out stream bed, up a few sandy hills, and back into a field. This guy did not want to be seen.
I never did see his face. Maybe he was embarrassed, or maybe he likes to maintain an air of mystery. Whatever the case, we eventually gave up and drove back to the lodge, content from another satisfying drive.
So many people have told me personally or commented on my South Africa posts that they didn’t see a lot of big game while in Kruger. I think it’s important to point out that we went on safari with &Beyond and stayed in their private game reserve, Ngala, on the fringe of Kruger. The area was vast, the animals were many, and very rarely did we cross paths with another safari vehicle. It’s my only safari experience to date so I’m not an expert, but seems to me if you go to South Africa and want a stellar safari experience, you should opt for one of the private companies with their own park.