Well, sort of… A few days ago, while driving up near our North-East corner with this year’s current crop of trainee rangers, Mark Nisbet stopped the vehicle to look at some tracks in the sand. Just a few minutes before, the group had been arguing over whether another set of prints belonged to a young male leopard or a female, and the set that Mark had now spotted were clearly too small to be a male, so he thought he would get everyone out to illustrate the difference. As soon as he alighted from the trackers seat, however, he knew something was different. Slightly thinner back pads, and the definite imprint of a claw in the sand made it quite clear that these were, in fact, the tracks of a cheetah and not of a leopard.
Excitement gripped the group as this was the last thing they had expected to find in this section of the reserve. Further inspection of the area revealed two more sets of tracks, which most likely meant only one thing; the mother cheetah and her two youngsters had returned to Londolozi! Where the tracks were found was pretty much exactly where the three had first entered Londolozi territory all those months ago, and the rangers were confident that they would once again be found on the clearings north of the river.
Sure enough, that afternoon Tom Imrie and Jerry Hambana found tracks heading straight for the open crests opposite Tree Camp, so a couple of vehicles moved into the area to have a look. Despite checking every dense thicket, every shady spot, hearing monkeys alarm calling and going back through the area a number of times, nothing was found. In the long grass of summer, it wasn’t impossible that the cheetahs had avoided detection. Quite possibly they had made a kill and had dragged it into some unobtrusive corner to feed in peace. Tracks of the Tsalala pride moving through the area also hinted at a possible run-in having taken place.
So where have they gone to? We checked the area again the next morning but again found nothing, not even a track. Have the cheetahs moved out of Londolozi again? Was it in fact the same mother and youngsters that we were used to seeing?
Until we actually find them, we can’t say for sure, but I like to think that any day now, they’ll rear their heads somewhere on the property, and our cheetah count on Londolozi will literally be quadrupled!
Written by James Tyrrell