Editor’s Note: The following sighting was from a few weeks ago, before the mother cheetah had lost the use of her right eye.
The first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset provide the most beautiful light in which to photograph people, landscapes and wildlife. Known as the golden hours, the low angle of the sun throws a warmer, softer light and, some would say, a magical glow on everything upon which it falls.
On our first safari drive during our most recent visit to Londolozi, the sun was beginning to drop low in the sky as Grant, our guide, and Jerry, our tracker spotted a mother cheetah and her two cubs in tall grass beneath a tree. Expecting to see small cubs, we were surprised to find almost-grown adolescents curiously peering out at us from behind overhanging branches, the golden light of sunset dappling their faces.
Before long, the mother cheetah was up and moving into the long grasses, made golden by the magic light. She stopped often to check her surroundings, swivelling ears and eyes for any danger. It was striking to see that her amber eyes were turned deep red by that amazing light!
The cubs soon followed their mother out of the woodland, keeping a close eye on her and each other. The golden hour was turning more reddish as the sun neared the horizon and we started to lose the light altogether.
We caught our last sight of the female up on a termite mound, waiting for “the kids.” As we left the cheetah family for the evening, we agreed that seeing cheetahs in the golden hour before sunset was an incredible end to our first afternoon safari!
Some days later, very early on our morning drive, Jerry Hambana, our tracker, shouted “Cheetah!,” pointing across an open grassland to a termite mound in the far, far distance and, amazingly, yes, there was the mother cheetah and the cubs! How could he see them that far away?! Off road we tore, Grant avoiding trees and rocks and holes as we moved quickly to catch the cheetah family while they were still up on the termite mound! We circled behind for some silhouette shots before coming around to watch them as they faced the slowly rising sun.
As the sun broke the horizon and spread its golden rays, the cheetahs were glowing in the soft red-gold light of the early morning.
All three rested on the top of the mound as the sun rose and warmed the crisp winter morning. The mother was constantly on the alert and the cubs were clearly learning from her as three heads and three sets of ears turned frequently, catching bush sounds and movements from all directions.
With the light changing to pure gold, the female decided to move on and took the lead, heading down from the termite mound into the tall grass beyond. The cubs followed but, once in the open bush, couldn’t resist wrestling with each other, climbing a fallen tree, running through the grass – playful youngsters and fun to watch.
Meanwhile, Grant and Jerry kept their eyes on the mother cheetah, too. They tracked her movements to another termite mound from which to search for both food and possible trouble. The two cubs trailed behind but eventually joined her as the sun moved high in the sky; the magic light gone for now. We moved off to enjoy our morning coffee, utterly thrilled to have had the chance to see the cheetahs twice this visit!