The legend himself, Pat Zwane, was swinging the spotlight from side to side. Not a very familiar sight for a morning game drive, but this was no ordinary game drive. I had quite serious photographers on my vehicle and the mission was to photograph as much as possible in the best possible light. This meant finding animals early in the drive and sticking with them. Tricky perspectives on both accounts.
Our goal was to get to an area where a female cheetah and 2 sub adult cubs had been seen the previous morning. I braced myself, and guests alike, on a very chilly 20 minute drive to get to the area. As I was about to take the next turn, the familiar frantic bobbing of the spotlight alerted me that Pat had seen something. He nonchalantly turned to me and with a broad simle said, "The cheetahs have come to us!"
I followed the line of light and there they were- an adult female cheetah with her 2 sub-adult cubs. Pat immediately took the spotlight off them, jumped in the vehicle and we sat with them patiently as the glorious glow on the eastern horizon became more prominent. The sun peeked over the tree tops and another awesome day in Africa dawned upon us. If only we knew what was around the corner.
In sets of 2, the majority of the guests at Phinda Mountain Lodge got to see these magnificent cats as the cubs chased each other around while mom had her ever focussed stride - a stride I recognised.
Minutes after we were left alone again with the trio the atmosphere changed in a heart beat. The adult female had seen something. I scanned the horizon, waiting for an impala or nyala to enter the viewfinder. But what I saw disappointed me. A herd of kudus came into view and my heart sank. The herd was a bit too big a prey for a coalition of male cheetahs let alone a single female. She nonetheless strode towards the unsuspecting herbivores, focussed and intent. She would have to move through a gully system and up the next hill to get to them, another factor counting against the trio of spots. I looped around to give her the best possible chance by not disturbing her. The road curved around until we were met by the herd of kudu in question. We patiently sat with them.
Moments passed with hearts pounding, anticipation etched on our faces. Then chaos ensued. With one belated alarm call kudus started bolting in all directions around our vehicle. The female cheetah came into sight, hot on the heals of a sub-adult kudu. The cheetah was on its hind legs trying to tackle / ride the kudu from behind. The kudu was kicking ferociously trying to get rid of its attacker. Somehow the cheetah managed to get the kudu to dip its hips and that was what she was waiting for. A quick swivel allowed the cheetah to get to the kudu's throat. She needed no second invitation and the battle was over a minute later. As the kudu gave its last breath, the 2 sub-adult cheetahs came into view. They bolted towards mom and continued to 're-kill' the kudu as mom regained her breath and stabilised her heartbeat.
While training as an &Beyond guide we were constantly reminded that "Assumptions are the mother of all bugger-ups". Here I made the assumption that the cheetah would fail in the hunt of a kudu. Big mistake. A telling reminder that these animals hunt on a daily basis and do know best when it comes to murder and filling their bellies. Another quality 5 hour cheetah sighting at Phinda Private Game Reserve.
(Thanks to Phinda Mountain Lodge guest Mark Lowey for the featured photograph).
Posted: Phinda by Jacques-Pierre Joubert, Date: 4 June 2012