A cheetah is considered a rare sighting at Londolozi. This graceful cat is a close cousin to the leopards which are more commonly seen throughout the reserve. Although both cats are covered in golden fur, the cheetah has black spots in contrast to the leopard’s rosettes. Differing in length, weight, speed and style, the cheetah is far more slender, lighter and built for speed as opposed to the stocky build of the leopard. The cheetah’s head is smaller and its non-retractable claws means that its grip is consistent when running at its top speed of 120km/h. Its oversized lungs allow it to draw in enough oxygen to use whilst running at such high speeds.
Not many people are fortunate enough to witness a cheetah let alone one running at full speed. If you are fortunate enough to find one nestled atop a termite mound or hidden in the sunlit savannah they will most probably be resting and conserving energy for their next hunt. If however, you stumble across this cat effortlessly trotting through the bush with a focused look in its eye…then stick with it as it is probably looking for an opportunity to hunt.
Callie, our Tree Camp Lodge manager, managed to get all of the above in one afternoon. Enjoying a game drive with Ranger Lucien Beaumont and their Tree Camp guests, the crew discovered a mother cheetah and her sub-adult son towards the open areas of the reserve. Shortly afterwards the two animals rose and began to exhibit that same effortless trot as mentioned above. What she then caught on camera was a truly incredible sighting at Londolozi.
Cheetahs are incredibly deft animals. Long considered to be hunters and occupants of the open plains they are, in reality, supremely confident in everything from grasslands to thick woodlands. Using their lengthy tail to balance their agile swerves and control their explosive speed, this otherwise placid big cat, is truly unique.
So next time you are at Londolozi keep your eye out for the other spotted cat. In addition to being as beautiful as the leopard, the cheetah is able to offer a completely different game viewing experience…and if you are lucky perhaps you will see it run as quickly as Callie did.
Photographed and Written by: Rich Laburn
Filmed by: Callie Haden-Smith