The Abadi family was recently at Londolozi, and having visited the lodge many times, were hoping to see something special. The female cheetah had been found not too far from camp, on what I think was day three of their eight-day stay, so we headed up towards where the spotted cat was hunting on the crests near the airstrip.
Our first sight of her was promising; she was pretty skinny, and therefore hungry, meaning that a hunt was likely. We decided to stick with her to see what unfolded. Little did we know that we were in for a looong wait before we were to see some action.
The first afternoon’s drive with her resulted in very little. The cheetah moved a round a little and eyed out a couple of impala herds, but her best opportunity was ruined when she moved off a termite mound to get in position for a chase and was spotted by the impala ram of a breeding herd. He sounded the alarm, and very shortly all the impala and wildebeest in the area were snorting their alarm calls, prompting the cheetah to move elsewhere. Nothing further happened that evening, as one more chance ended with another impala blundering into the thicket where she was hiding and discovering her totally by accident, again ruining her hunting chances.
The next morning, knowing how hungry the cheetah had been, we headed back to the hill crests again, and found her very quickly thanks to some wildebeest snorting at her. Working carefully towards a distant herd of impala over the course of the next hour, the female eventually got in position to launch an attack, and taking off at breakneck speed, she had soon disappeared around a thicket, where only flying dust and alarm snorts of the rest of the impala herd were evident.
Racing towards where we had last seen her, we found her on the bank of Vomba Dam, looking slightly confused and moving back and forth near the water’s edge. Her behaviour puzzled us, but a few minutes later the gargoyle face of a large crocodile surfaced nearby, the lifeless body of an impala ewe clenched firmly in its jaws. We are pretty sure the impala had either tripped and fallen into the dam, or had leaped in in a last ditch effort to save itself from the cheetah, and the crocodile who was probably sunbathing nearby had simply slid into the water to grab itself an easy meal. It was less than a minute before the scaly reptile had dragged the impala back to depths. And once more, the cheetah went hungry.
That evening we were back in position, following the female as she criss-crossed the same areas, but impala were conspicuous by their absence. The cheetah ended the day perched on a termite mound, watching a pair of white rhinos grazing nearby.
The next morning, drive four, we were determined that this was it! The cheetah was now looking very hungry, and we were supremely confident that today she was going to make a kill.
Our first problem was finding her, and that took quite awhile, as she had moved out of the area, and tracks discovered by Life Sibuyi pointed us to the south west, back towards the grasslands that she has traditionally made her home in.
Eventually ranger Sandros Sihlangu found her, heading south like we suspected, and she was still on the hunt, but again for some reason, no impala were to be found. Eventually, hours later, after we had waited patiently while the cheetah lay on a termite mound soaking up the morning sun,she moved over a hill crest to be greeted by the most welcome sight of an impala herd grazing peacefully down the slope.
There were to be no mistakes this time. Everything was in her favour. The wind, the sun, the terrain. Patience is a virtue with predators in the wild, and the cheetah exemplified that quality on this morning, moving as slowly and cautiously as possible as she crept into a bushwillow thicket to use as cover.
A lot of the time, seeing a kill take place in the bush is a matter of luck; right place, right time. For us on this, out fourth game drive with the cheetah, it was sheer pig-headed stubbornness that had got us into position.
After a long time in which the tension built up unbearably, the cheetah launched into her run, and all that could be seen was impala exploding in all directions, dust flying, and a single spotted meteor hurtling down the hill and through the herd.
I couldn’t see what had happened from the driver’s seat, but Gary, a row or two back, was adamant that he’d seen her hit. We raced down to where she had disappeared, and there in the grass she lay, still strangling the life from a young impala ram. Success!
I think the relief that we felt was far more for her than it was for us!
With baboons alarming at her from a nearby knobthorn tree, the cheetah proceeded to drag the carcass of the impala to a nearby thicket, where she rested for a good few minutes, getting her breath back after exerting herself fully in the chase. She eventually settled down to feed, and despite the attentions of circling vultures, who soon numbered over 50, she was able to fill her belly.
Our patience, and more importantly hers, had been rewarded.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell