We saw our first wild cheetah on Saturday, at Pilanesberg.
But while they are “wild”, in the sense that they are not in pens or cages, they are still within conservation areas, which means they aren’t “free-roaming” (which, for me, is the true definition of “wild”).
According to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, there are less than 1,000 cheetahs remaining in South Africa: 250-500 free-roaming; ~250 captive; and about 350 in protected areas such as parks and reserves. Seeing two of that 350 was pretty exciting.
We’ve been in South Africa about 8 months and these are the first two we’ve seen that weren’t in captivity (“captivity” includes zoos and other smaller enclosure areas and breeding programs). We have friends who have been here for years and have still not seen a wild cheetah.
We didn’t happen across these cheetah on our own. We were headed toward Mankwe Dam in Pilanesberg when we noticed a large cluster of non-moving vehicles in the distance. Anybody who has been to one of the parks knows that a cluster that size most frequently means cats (lion, leopard, or cheetah). Even rhino, while generating a lot of stoppage, often has cars moving on after a short period of time. But people will watch cats all day long, so the vehicles pile up.
Thankfully a nice young guide from Ivory Tree Game Lodge advised us not to turn down the road toward all the vehicles. He warned us we would get stuck in the traffic, and that they were all vying to watch two cheetahs. But he explained that the cheetah were headed in our direction across the tall grass and they expected them to cross the road just beyond us.
This young man didn’t know us, but we have stayed at Ivory Tree before, and the lodge is as gracious and helpful on site as it is to strangers out in the park. It is an expensive lodge, but incredibly worth the pampering if you can afford it. We used our first South Africa pay to spend a weekend there, on the advice of a friend. So I had to give a shout-out to Ivory Tree in special thanks for helping us avoid a traffic snarl and actually get to see cheetah! Oh, and Happy Anniversary, Ivory Tree, as I see you turn 10 this month!
We followed the guide’s advice and turned away from the traffic cluster, parking a short ways up the dirt road. We caught several glimpses of the cheetah in the grass, the second slightly smaller than the first, so we guessed it was a mother and year-old cub. But were too far back from where they finally crossed the road. It was okay that we didn’t see them cross the road. Just to see them at all was incredibly lucky.
Were you able to spot the cheetah in each photo? We couldn’t believe how hard it was to find them, even knowing they were there, and remembering where they were in the photos. We likened the search to the “Where’s Wally/Waldo” books, a series of picture books where you search for a young man wearing a hat, glasses and scarf. He blends in amazingly well in any number of settings. I can spend hours going through a Waldo book (he’s called “Waldo” in the U.S. and Canada, but “Wally” in his native Britain) trying to find him in each picture.
Likewise, I know that at least one of the above photos shows TWO cheetah, not one. But even knowing which photo has the second cheetah, I still have difficulty finding it.
Did you find it? Did you find it more than once?
I think we must conclude that the nearly grown cub is named “Wally the Cheetah” and I hope he has a long and healthy, well-camouflaged life.
My regular readers know with each wildlife post, I try to also encourage support of conservation efforts. For today’s post, please take a moment to look at this website for the beautiful Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre. I will be doing a post on them sometime this year and I hope you have a minute to follow them on Twitter, and Like them on Facebook as well.
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