On the afternoon of our second day, we raced to the spot where Godfrey, our guide, had heard that a cheetah was seen. When we arrived, two jeeps of game watchers sat waiting patiently, eyes trained on a spot in the tall grass where the cheetah was supposed to be.
We were looking at the same place for so long, I no longer trusted what I was seeing. Was that a log or the cheetah? The grass was so tall, the color so similar to the cheetah’s skin, I couldn’t be sure. My eyes could play tricks on me but my camera wouldn’t lie, so I pointed it in the general direction, ready to shoot when the cheetah appeared.
We continued to sit and wait, whispering among ourselves from time to time; the radios silenced, so as not to startle the animal. After a while, the other jeeps gave up and left but Godfrey didn’t move. The cheetah, he said, had eaten the previous night and was resting, so we stayed put.
I’m not sure how long we waited, excitement bubbling in my stomach. Then Godfrey, binoculars covering his eyes, whispered urgently and pointed.
Where was it? There it is! Where? Where? We were all whispering loudly at the same time.
The cheetah had gotten up and was walking along. But by the time we spotted it, it dropped unexpectedly into the grass, as if its legs had failed him.
I couldn’t see much through my digital camera so I just snapped several times, hoping I’d get something. This is the best of the lot. If you look closely at the middle of the photo just before the log, you’ll see it.
Caroline did much better.
I’m glad Godfrey decided to wait as this was the only cheetah we would see.
During the evening/night drive, I spotted two glassy, red spots just as the jeep’s headlights picked out its owner. It was a lion and it was walking straight towards us. Godfrey steered the jeep quickly off the path and turned off the lights. Instinctively, we stopped talking and waited silently as he strutted majestically past us. He was less than 5 feet from our jeep but it was as if we weren’t even there.
I was struck by how absolutely beautiful he was. His swagger was fearless. He knew he owned this territory and as he cleared our jeep, demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that he owned it.
It was the only time that my batteries died and I had no spares with me. It was also the only time Judith (The Cat Lady) couldn’t get her camera going to take the shot. And Sandra discovered afterwards that she was pointing her camera at herself!
As soon as he had passed the jeep, and we regained our voices, Godfrey pointed out that he looked hungry and was on the prowl. Then Sandra, in a small voice, said, “I think I soiled my pants.” Of the three of us, she had been the most adamant about not wanting to be too close but as luck would have it, she was the closest to where the lion passed.
Whether she was serious or not, we didn’t even find out. We just burst out laughing. It was exactly what we needed to relieve the tension.
It was our lucky night. Shortly after the lion sighting, Godfrey heard on the radio that a leopard had been seen and headed the jeep in the direction where it was spotted.
We could see two separate infrared lights crisscrossing each other in the distance. Two jeeps were ahead searching for the leopard that was moving so fast, we hustled to keep up.
It bolted to a watering hole and the hippos that seemed to have gathered on the edge, made a beeline for the water. In the dark, I couldn’t see that hippos had been there. All I heard was the thundering of feet and the plop, plopping sound they made as they hit the water. For animals their size and with such short legs they moved fast!
The next morning, we noticed a lioness sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, her stomach was so full, she could hardly move. A jackal sat at the edge of the shade, watching, waiting.
Godfrey stopped about 20 feet from where the lioness sat. Judith and I got out and inched in for a closer look. Sandra decided she’d rather stay in the jeep. (Someone had to inform our loved ones, she told us.) Eyes slit open, she peered in our direction, then closed them. In time, she rolled on her side, overcome by her full stomach.
When we got back to the jeep, Godfrey heard on the radio that a pride had been seen. Several cubs were sitting on a rock as we arrived. Godfrey drove closer so we could get a better view but when they saw us, the mothers hustled the kids quickly into the bush. I counted 11 mothers and cubs in that pride.
Godfrey wasn’t sure why she seemed so agitated as the day before, they were able to get close enough for Caroline to get this photo of one of the cubs.
On the way back to camp, the lioness we’d left napping had moved to another tree not far away. Godfrey stopped. An antelope was approaching and would walk right past the lioness. Would she kill the antelope? We waited, torn between the excitement at the possibility of witnessing a kill and the sobering reality of what it would mean.
The antelope walked past where the lioness lounged. After it passed, it stopped and looked in the lioness’ direction. They locked eyes as she looked up.
The antelope looked fixed to the ground but ready to bolt should the lioness decide to take after it. But she didn’t even move, still full it seems from the previous night’s kill. She put her head on her paws and went back to her nap.
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