I have never left camp for game drive and not been excited about what I might see. There is always the possibility a surprise around the next corner.
Recently we were working in the far South West of Londolozi, looking for buffalo herds in the open grasslands that these bovines frequent. It was a hot morning, with only a few vultures circling lazily overhead.
In the wide open spaces of the grasslands one would expect that buffalo would be easy to find, but with the long grass of summer, it is often only the very tops of the buffalos backs that are visible, and one sometimes finds oneself right in and amongst the herd before you even realize they are there.
Anyway, there we were, trundling along without much success in our search, when a radio call came in that a small group of ten or fifteen buffalo had been found nearby, so we headed in that direction. The tracker I work with, Mike Sithole, has the eyes of an eagle, and he spotted the beasts long before either myself or the guests did, way in the distance on the crest of a hill. Mike has the uncanny ability to make me feel foolish, as I often struggle to pick up with binoculars what he can spot with his naked eye.
Before long we were approaching the herd when movement a bit further along the road caught our attention. It was a herd of zebra running along the skyline, and whilst at first we thought it might be just a group of stallions in high spirits, Mike’s sudden yell of “Cheetah!” made me put my foot down flat and race to the scene. From a few hundred metres away, Mike had picked out the shape of the spotted missile hurtling through the grass, sending the zebra in panicked flight, but it was not until we came skidding around a clump of sickle bush that we saw what the cheetah was actually after, as it had it’s jaws firmly clamped around the throat of a huge male impala! The impala was still kicking in the settling dust of the take-down, but within a minute or two, the cheetah’s suffocating grip ended its struggles and it lay still.
Cheetahs are nervous animals by nature, right at the bottom of the large predator hierarchy, and they have to be constantly on the lookout for danger. An impala killed right out in the open is an invitation for trouble, so after only a few minutes of getting his breath back, the cheetah dragged the carcass to a nearby thicket, into the shade and seemingly out of sight. An adult male impala weighs in the region of 60kg or more, so to drag such an animal, gripping it with no more than your teeth is no mean feat!
We watched him for a while longer, but as the sun approached its zenith and the bushveld began to swelter, we left him as he settled down to feed.
Written, photographed and filmed by James Tyrrell