Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Great Cheetah Hunt

Mar 3 - The Great Cheetah Hunt

Around 4am I heard the distinctive call of the lions as the pride re-established contact after the night's hunt. As usual on safari we awoke before dawn and after a quick cup of coffee we set out towards in search of the great migration.  We left the woodlands and entered the Serengeti plains just as the sun was rising which provided perfect illumination for photos of the spotted hyena we soon encountered. The mom had a nursing pup which insisted on getting his milk despite the presence of our strange trucks.  It is fascinating how animals become habituated to the presence of landrovers and treat them as another large animal so that you can approach to within 10 feet in most cases without disturbing them.  I forgot to mention that when we arrived in camp yesterday we were offered an afternoon walking safari experience which was really great.  I love getting out of the vehicles and walking in the bush with a knowledgeable guide.  You learn so much about traditional medicine, animal behavior, reading tracks, etc...  Our walk took us to a Masai herders enclosure which was temporarily abandoned so that we could enter the gate and view the mud and stick structure where the herders cooked and slept.  It was the first time I has been able to look into one of these primitive shelters and it was very instructive to see how simply they live in harmony with nature.  Anyway, back to our game drive... After a shirt drive we came upon a serious migratory herd of wildebeest (also know as gnu).  It was the classic Serengeti image with a line of beasts stretching to the horizon all walking in the same direction towards the expected rain.  As we sat watching this timeless scene our guide spotted 3 cheetah in the distance.  We were quite fortunate to see them as they were well hidden in the bushes near a group of Thompson Gazelles. When we arrived we could tell they were ready to hunt by their skinny bellies and roving hunters eyes.  We parked nearby and had a nice bush breakfast as we waited for the go start their hunt.  It turns out our timing was prefect because as we returned to them they arose and started trotting out onto the open plains.  The gazelles were well aware of their presence and kept a respectful distance away.  However we were patient and just waited to see what would happen and sure enough about 30 minutes late a stray wildebeest newborn stumbled right past our vehicle and the cheetah flew into action literally in front of us.  We had front row seats to an amazing spectacle as the three cheetah quickly got hold of the wildebeest and brought him down before our eyes.  

It was over in an instant as one of the cheetah got hold of the jugular and made the kill. It was a thrilling experience to see my first kill and I felt so lucky to have it happen within 20 feet of us.  The cheetah quickly devoured the carcass in a matter of minutes first going for the nutritious heart and liver and then on to the rest.  Every once in a while they would look up with crimson blood stained faces to check to make sure no lion or hyena were in the area.  We learned that cheetah tend to hunt in the middle of the day while the lion is sleeping so that they will not lose their kills.  They eat as fast as they can and then move on.  In our case, they walked just past our vehicles before wandering off to find shade. Their feast would last them for the next 2-3 days before they would need to hunt again.  It was obvious why coming in safari at the height often migration will give one the best odds of seeing his kind of predatory spectacle.  With almost 2 million wildebeest, a million zebra and 250,000 gazelles there is an abundant food source and plenty of stray newborns that are separated from their mothers during the constant movement.  By the time we left the scene almost 3 hours after arriving in the area that line of migrating wildebeest was still moving past us and the line still stitched out to both horizons...just mind blowing!   On our return we came upon a newborn gazelle that had just come into this world a few minutes before - it was incredible to watch it take its first wobbly steps towards mom.  We then returned to camp for a delicious lunch of seafood cakes, fresh avocado and tomato salad, and scalloped potatoes washed down with a lively sauvignon blanc. Yum! After a quick nap we set off for the afternoon game drive towards nearby Lake  Masek where we were treated to close up views of a baby hippo on his mother's back, pink flamingos,and a classic sundowner drink in the cool evening breeze as great thunderclouds gathered above us. As you might imagine we had plenty of stories to share around the campfire that night as we sat under the crescent moon and nursed our gin and tonics to the sounds of the wild.  Just another day in paradise. Wonder what tomorrow will bring.  By the way we met a father and son who have been coming every year on safari for the past 25 years and they have never seen a cheetah kill which made us really appreciate how blessed we were today.

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