Many people who come on safari are in my opinion…to impatient. Many of these people would have watched all the amazing bits of footage you can see on Nat Geo Wild and Animal Planet.

Recently i had a guest arrive and straight after we had exchanged pleasantries upon meeting he tells me. “Just so we are clear…i have no interest in seeing Kudu, Impala, Warthog, Waterbuck….etc etc” Basically he rattles off ALL of the common stuff that is your bread and butter on a safari. No he wants the fillet steak and only the fillet steak. He tells me…”I want to see Cheetah , Wild dog and Grysbok, i have been doing safari for twenty five years and i have seen everything else many times except these three things!” I smile at him and reply “ Well this should be a fantastic safari as those are the things i want to see also.”

Cheetah hunting, Camp Hwange, Zimbabwe ©Julian Brookstein

That afternoon we find lions on the concession when doing an afternoon drive behind camp and true to his word he tells me there is no need to stop as we know what we are looking for and these big tawny cats aint it. The next morning we leave camp just before sunrise and hit the road. I know that there has been a Cheetah seen lately at Masuma pan down the road so decide that we will head that direction. Ahead of me is another guide from camp and he arrives at Masuma before me. He radios and tells me that he has fresh lion tracks and is on them and will keep me posted. We arrive at Masuma and walk into the hide. Just as we are sitting down i hear my radio. Its the call to tell me the lions have been found. The other guide is sitting with Day and Lewis and some of the females and all of the cubs. When i say ALL of the cubs i mean sixteen of them! Again true to his word, my guest shows no interest. He tells me he has the record for lions seen in one day in South Luangwa, thirty five lions in one day. I smile.

We sit for about ten minutes in the hide and he says maybe we should continue on our way. I tell him that we will be sitting here for a while and see what happens. Five minutes after this conversation another vehicle drives in. They walk into the hide and tell me that they have just seen a cheetah and they lost it in the bush but it was heading this way. I smile and walk over to my guest and tell him. We all then begin glassing the area that it should appear from if it holds its course. Soon enough out walks the real spotted cat, it is about three hundred metres away .He comes down a steep embankment and then wanders over to a blue bush and lies down in its shade. Now this blue bush has some pretty thick grass at its base so we can no longer see the cat. My guest starts cursing. I tell him we need to Sit, watch and wait. So we sit, we watch and we wait, and for nearly an hour there is no movement.

Cheetah in the bush, Camp Hwange, Zimbabwe ©Julian Brookstein

My guest starts telling me he thinks the cat has disappeared behind the bush and gone down the gully behind it. He tells me that we should continue on our way. I smile again and tell him that he arrived here with a pretty tough wish list and we have number one on the list in front of. All be it at three hundred metres but in front of us.
What is going through my mind is that this cat is obviously going to move, it just depends on when. Some of you mayk now and some of you may not that Cheetah very often hunt when the day is at its hottest. Reason being majority of other predators will be lying in the shade at this time and won’t harass the Cheetah, as Cheetah is basically on the bottom of the pile when it comes to the predator pecking order.

I tell my guest that we will be sitting, watching and waiting. He agrees after a little discussion. Another thirty minutes pass and then finally i see the cat move. It walks out and is scanning the open area in front of it and the waterhole. There is a herd of waterbuck, some impala and a few warthog in is view. It stands there and looks for about five minutes then walks back under the bush and lies down. The guest turns and looks at me and before he can say anything i tell him…we sit, we watch and we wait. Another half and hour goes by and now we have been sitting for nearly two hours watching a bush basically as we can’t see the cat. Then the cat is up and walks out again. This time there seems to be more purpose in its stride. It walks at the bottom of a ridge until it arrives at a termite mound, it walks up and scent marks on the palm tree and stares out over the ground. Everyone has binos fixed on it.

It walks down the mound and along the base of the ridge. As it comes to the end of the ridge its drops flat and has its eyes fixed on the herd of waterbuck. It sits like this for about twenty seconds then starts to move forward at a trot holding itself low to the ground. It covers about thirty metres like this unseen by the herd of waterbuck or the impala that are nearby. Then suddenly it explodes and is off. The acceleration is incredible, i have been lucky enough to see a Cheetah in the wild at full pace a couple of times and let me tell you. You need to see it to believe it. It catches up with the waterbuck herd that has now scattered in no time and immediately we see that it has its eyes on a calf. The calf also realises this and breaks for the mopane thicket. The calf runs through a dry river bed, the Cheetah follows and stumbles in the sand. The calf opens a bit of a gap; the Cheetah checks its stride and in no time is back behind the calf. The calf races through the scrub moapane and the cheetah is right behind it. As the calf leaves the thicket and is in the open the cheetah ankle taps it and the calf loses its footing, the Cheetah is over it with a paw and shoves it to the ground. As it is standing over the calf and about to go for the throat bite the mother waterbuck who i have not really noticed is charging at the cheetah and goes to ram it with her head. The cheetah waits till the last second and skips out of the way. The calf all the while is bleating to high heaven thinking its days are done.

Cheetah in the bush, Camp Hwange, Zimbabwe ©Julian Brookstein

Then as fast as it happened it was over and the Cheetah is standing there looking sorry for itself and the waterbuck cow and calf along with some other members of the herd are standing there staring at it.
As the excitement in the hide calms down i walk over to my guest and simply tell him “sitting, watching and waiting was worth it huh?”

We went on to see a Grysbok that evening  My second ever in Hwange) , this was after seeing a pangolin (The third one i have EVER seen!)

Then to ice the cake we sat when on a walk with a pack of ten Painted dogs for over an hour in a river bed the next day.

To say my guest left happy is understatement. On the final morning he did not even go out on a drive but simply told me that he had seen what he came for and would be relaxing in camp to read his book. A lioness came down to the waterhole to drink while he was reading.

Sometimes it all falls into place…

 

Julian Brookstein

 

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