The cool autumn breeze flushed a series of goosebumps from rangers and guests alike as we set off from Mountain Lodge just before sunrise. The traditional pre-winter morning mist spilled over the ancient sand dunes towards the Indian Ocean.
My guests had arrived very late the previous evening and this was their first drive. We had one thing on our minds – cheetah. The furthest southern reaches of Phinda is dominated by a certain female cheetah and 2 cubs. We hadn’t seen her in a while and she was bound to pop up somewhere. Mountain Lodge ranger, Richard Lusinga, managed to find some tracks of these elusive cats and soon enough found them lounging under a beautiful Umbrella thorn (Acacia Tortillas). They were soaking up the morning rays and staring nervously into the distance when we arrived. A very familiar sight.
Mere minutes after Richard left the sighting, the female got up and started walking. The cubs soon followed in tow. By now the slight breeze had turned into a wind. Her stride seemed determined. Her gaze focussed. Every now and again I would lose sight of their sleek bodies as they melted away in the long tawny grass. I looped around so that they walked towards us. As I got into position and waited we noted a journey of giraffe in the distance and a big herd if impala at their feet. The female cheetah and her youngsters stopped a few feet from us, scanned the horizon and almost simultaneously their body language intensified.
The female immediately went into stalking mode. The wind was to her advantage. The movement of the wind-stricken grass would conceal their approach. And then it happened. A burst of acceleration incomparable. A spotted blur covering ground towards the unsuspecting impala. One alarm call and the herd split in two. One wave of impala bolted to the right, the other to the left. Chaos - exactly what these murderous felines were waiting for. The 2 sub-adults sprinted after a sub-adult impala and narrowly missed. We lost sight of the adult female momentarily. I sped forward to try and relocate her. As I came around a thicket a fully grown impala male darted passed my vehicle. Out of nowhere the mother cheetah came flying from his flank and hit him in mid air as he tried to jump to safety. An amazing acrobatic feat for a cheetah. The cheetah held onto her quarry as he tried to wangle himself out of her deathgrip. To no avail. Slowly but surely his limbs started to buckle until she had him firmly on the ground. One last belated breath signalled the end. As soon as it all started, it was over.
The sub-adult cheetahs came bounding from a distance and commenced ‘re-killing’ the impala for the next 10 minutes as mom got her breath back.
Phinda Game Reserve firmly remains the best place on this planet for cheetah viewing!
Posted: Phinda by Jacques-Pierre Joubert, Date: 18 May 2012