A million miles from nowhere… that’s where I have been.
What to say… where to start… Superlatives cannot do my experience justice…
To be in the Kalahari desert with my best pals, in a wilderness with so many magnificent creatures, such prolific birdlife and with a backdrop of such unbelievable beauty was an extraordinary time… the best adventure of them all…
I could mention the ‘dazzle’ of zebras, the ‘journey’ of giraffe, the ‘pride’ of lions or the ‘crash’ of rhino, the ‘troop’ of baboons and the ‘herd’ of buffalo… We were fortunate to see them all up close and personal… but what I really want to tell you about are the cheetah….
I have a soft ‘spot’ for cheetah… perhaps it’s their lean lanky form or the teardrop markings that make their faces so expressive… I know it’s more than their definitive coats… the cheetah has always been one of my serious crushes…
In an area of this magnitude it would be unrealistic to arrive with a wish list… wild animals don’t do as they are told… they are unpredictable, they cover immense ground and they are the masters of camouflage… I didn’t dare ask for cheetah…
This reserve in the Kalahari desert covers an area of more that 1000 square kilometres… vast terracotta sands, gnarly thorn filled bushes and wild grasses were punctuated against immense sapphire blue skies… The reserve is cut in two by a road and on either side of the road runs a fence… behind the fence is another access road running parallel with the main road… This fenced division of the property is partly to hinder poachers… for that is still a massive problem for the critically endangered rhino… and to manage the major predators, the lions. Conservation is the major goal of this reserve… breeding, habituating and maintaining healthy game is their ultimate priority.
Back to the cheetah…
Cheetah are next to impossible to see in such an immense area… they stay together, out of site spending their days climbing mountains or running through cover.
Not last week… One male cheetah, in a silly move, had slipped through a small hole in the fence to find himself on the wrong side of the reserve… in dangerous territory… in lion country. Cheetahs are fast but not fast enough when it comes to the king of the jungle. Not only was his life endangered but he was separated from his brother. The animal life in this reserve is monitored closely so our guide knew this cheetah’s history and his habits. He was one of a pair of brothers and they roamed together.
We came upon this cheetah pacing close to the fence… his agitation and frustration were apparent. We were so close we could sense his every mood.
His fear of the lion and his desire to find his brother were much greater than any anxiety he felt over our presence. The cheetah was calling to his brother… a mournful cry… something in between a yelp and a meow. This was not at all the sound I would have imagined from such a wildcat. Apparently, cheetahs are the strong silent type… they vocalise infrequently. To hear the cry of the cheetah, albeit in tragic circumstances, was a rare priviledge.
We followed him… our hearts torn by his predicament… our emotions on edge hoping for a sighting of his brother and an easy solution.
Trying to find the break in this fence that ran like infinity would be nothing short of a miracle… I think all of us, even the expert guide and tracker in our jeep, felt tempted to scoop him up and deliver him to the other side… That was our irrational sentiment … Nobody can wrestle with a cheetah and come out smiling…
We left him with heavy hearts and hoped that he would be cunning enough to stay wide of the lions and locate his brother.
Later that afternoon we searched for our cheetah… He was still roaming the fence line but this time we could hear the cries of two cheetah… he had found his brother. One part of the problem was solved yet the major dilemma was moving our guy across the road and into safer country.
Time was of the essence… night would be falling and soon our lost friend would become hunted prey. The head rangers decided there was no time to waste and that he must be moved and reunited with his brother immediately. ‘Operation cheetah’ came into play quickly and effectively.
Both animals were darted with what I presume must be some majorly strong sedative, picked up and moved to an immense enclosure built specifically for emergencies such as these. The two brothers were left alone to sleep off their cocktail… they were monitored intermittently… but essentially undisturbed.
Once they regained consciousness they remained in the boma for a further 48 hours to recover, re-bond and convalesce from their ordeal…
These very lucky boys were then transported back to their home turf… safe, sound and together.
Happy ending… happy cheetahs… xv
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