On our second day at Sala’s camp we started bright and early with a 5:45am wakeup to start what ended up being an almost 8 hour game drive.
Between the drive the day before and the successful evening drive we already felt contented in our sightings and felt anything more would only be bonus.
Our spotter for our game drives was a Masai Elder named Mreku. He was born in a village not far from our camp and knew the area well. a kind of knowledge one would have if only they had spent every day of their life there. He also has eyesight that is super human. Maybe it’s from growing up on the Mara plains always scanning the horizons for kilometers that have exercised them to the point that made us (half) jokingly challenge him to find a beetle on the back of the lion- that was a kilometer away.
On this drive he pointed out cheetah that he had spotted about 2km away. landmarks: see the group of 5 bushes next to the group of 7 bushes on the next hill? in between them look at the group of trees and then follow the line to the next bush…you get the picture. Try as we might even with binoculars all we saw were bushes, grass and termite mounds. He assured us that there is a cheetah on the next hill and we were headed there. About 10 minutes later we finally saw it ourselves.
This beautiful male cheetah was in the shadow of a small bush on a termite mound. He was scanning the plains in search for his next meal. So we respectfully crept up in our vehicle as we watched him looking. It’s amazing how the animals have learned to tune out and ignore game vehicles. We followed him to a termite mound where he could have a 1 meter viewing advantage over the short grass. The three of us watched on as he patiently searched. He was clearly hungry and we could all see his determination. For at least 45 minutes we crept along behind him as he moved from termite mound to termite mound scanning the plains.
Finally on one of the mounds you could see his expression change. He locked his gaze on something on the horizon and his ears slightly flattened. Mfrefu saw his prey. A lone Thompson Gazelle in a thicket of bushes. Hunt was on. Mrefu started up and drove to the other side of the gazelle. With hearts pounding we watched as the hunt began. We were now going to experience the advance of the cheetah from the gazelles perspective. The gazelle must have noticed some movement in the grass because it stopped and started scanning the grass in the direction of the cheetah. The cheetah froze and sat as still as a statue. We held our breaths. The cheetah was still too far and would not have enough sprinting energy from its distance. If the gazelle ran now it was over for the cheetah. After 10 minutes of a silence so quiet where we could hear our hearts pounding in anticipation the gazelle seemed to determine there was no threat and lowered it head to graze again. The cheetah started advancing. The swiftness, grace and silence that it moved through the grass was breathtaking. The gazelle would lift it’s head every few bites to chew and the cheetah would freeze mid motion to remain undetected. Then the cheetah was close enough that we could hear the grass part as it moved it’s body through it. The gazelle heard it too. The gazelle sharply lifted it’s head high and it’s tail started flicking wildly left to right. Then it spotted the cheetah. Within seconds it turned on it’s heels and took off towards our jeep. The cheetah’s body seemed to stretch and unhinge from it’s joints as it took off towards it’s prey at full speed. Then the clever gazelle did a swift turn to it right to trick the cheetah. Within seconds the cheetah made the same sharp turn and was now literally on it’s tail. They ran almost connected to each other as they ran deeper and tighter into this fatal spiral for the gazelle. The cheetah grabbed the long neck of the gazelle with a firm, still and strong grip. As the gazelle tried to release itself the cheetah just sat holding it with still and quiet patience as the last life breaths escaped from the gazelle. It was a quiet strangulation. No blood and no sounds except for sounds breath from these two creatures. One racing and the other slowly fading. Soon there was only one. The cheetah released the neck of the gazelle and there was not even a puncture wound.
The cheetah finally showed signs of the massive amount of energy it had expended. It was exhausted. We sat watching on as it recovered. It was so tired that even after watching for at least 15 minutes it had still not caught it’s breath to start eating.
We decided to leave the cheetah in peace to recover and enjoy the rewards of its effort in peace.
The adrenaline rush we all felt and the tears of amazement of this incredible and raw life event that we had all just witnessed is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
This is life, this is death, this is raw beauty and tragedy. It’s pure survival with no malice, no greed and no purpose other what is determined by basic instinct and need.
I predict that along with everything else we have already experienced in Kenya we will be coming back soon. I can’t expect that we will ever witness anything like this again and will forever be grateful for being at this pinprick spot at this precise moment to witness this truly incredible moment.