In short: very!
We were driving in the open grassland area of Londolozi on an afternoon earlier this week. As we reached the unique micro-biome that is the Open Areas my guest asked me, “Is this not ideal cheetah territory?”
I said what I usually say when a guest mentions a cheetah, “Yes, it is, but cheetahs are difficult to find. They have extensive home ranges, are often solitary and light on their feet making it difficult to find their tracks. They also have a habit of walking in ‘difficult-to-predict movements’.
There are also not many cheetahs in the entire Sabi Sand Reserve; probably less than ten. This in an area of about 650 square kilometres (250 square miles.)”
The general angle I try to approach the answer from is that yes we have a chance at seeing a cheetah but the chances are slim, so we will have to be very lucky!
The fastest land mammal, the cheetah, is IUCN Red Listed as Vulnerable. There are just over 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild. There are less cheetah than there are rhinos, lions, elephants, or leopards. So when you see a cheetah, you are amongst a small and fortunate group of people who have seen this magnificent large cat too.
After I had almost forgotten about our cheetah conversation with those guests from about an hour earlier on drive, I saw a vehicle had stopped up ahead. Chris Taylor and Milton Khosa, the guide and tracker team in the vehicle, had literally just found now! I could not believe it (the same way I feel every time a cheetah is found), and when I told the guests they were equally as surprised and excited.
We watched this particular cheetah feeding on an impala he had recently hunted. I tried to envision and explain the hunt, chase and kill that must have been so spectacular. The fastest land mammal in the world, reaching speeds of over 100km/h (over 60mph), sprinting after an antelope which can run almost as fast, but uses a zig-zagging, side-to-side, darting style of running to evade chasing predators.
We sat there – as we do every time we are with a cheetah – really appreciating how lucky we were to spend time with this rare animal. On more than one occasion now, whilst in a cheetah sighting, I have turned backwards to look at the guests in my vehicle and seen tears rolling down a few of their cheeks; which is appropriate given the unique tear-marks that run down from cheetahs’ eyes.
Although leopards are usually perceived as the rarely seen big cat (which is very true in some parts of Africa), cheetahs can be that much more special to see.
Their declining numbers and rarity in this area in particular rank them among the highlights of many guest’s stay, although few guests are lucky enough to actually catch sight of one…