Warning – There are a few photos that may be disturbing to some. Nature!
On our first full day at Zulu Nyala our group met near the front lobby at 6:00 am for our morning excursion. Soon after turning into the reserve, as we drove along the fence line, I spotted the cheetah.
“Stop!” I yelled from the back seat, pleased with myself for seeing him. He was hiding in some brush, alert. A few yards away, seemingly unaware, grazed an impala.
“He’s on the hunt,” Chris, our guide, told us, pulling the jeep over. We watched for a few minutes until the cheetah lost interest and hunkered back down. For some reason, Chris said, the cheetah stopped tracking the unsuspecting animal.
Off we went. To our delight we had our first elephant sighting. The reserve is home to a herd of three females, two older adults, one younger. For the rest of the week we were on the hunt for the elephants, asking Chris to stop whenever we spotted them lumbering by in the near distance. I could have watched them play, pull down tree limbs to eat, stuff leaves in each other’s mouths, for hours. Their bond was beautiful.
Chris would drive along a pitted, dirt road for a while then take a right or left hand turn onto another dusty road. We looked down into watering holes, up into trees, pointing out animals, birds and the occasional reptile. We saw our first monkeys during our morning ride. They perched in trees, swung from limb to limb; babies hung on to their mothers’ backs and bellies as they scampered along the paths created from their habitual use.
We continued on our excursion, all of us quietly giddy (and sometimes not so quietly) to be up with the rising sun, out in the cool morning air, watching animals in their natural habitat, safe.
Here’s where the photos may be a bit disturbing
Chris, answering a call on his radio, told us we were in for a rare treat; the cheetah, who hunts every 5 – 8 days, had just made a kill. On our way to the cheetah he told us they hadn’t witnessed a kill in over a year. When we arrived at the scene of the crime there sat the cheetah with the impala he had killed a few minutes before. His sides bellowed in and out as he caught his breath. He was aware of us and the other jeeps around him but didn’t seem bothered or threatened.
Chris told us the cheetah probably chased the impala into the electric fence, which was just on the other side of the road we drove on, to stun it. He then suffocated it, leaving a hole in the impala’s neck as evidence. We sat in silence watching the drama unfold. The cheetah laid next to his kill, resting from the exertion it took to take down his prey. He panted, looked around, panted, looked around. Eventually, he got up and made his way to the still warm carcass.
He started on the impala’s flank, the meatiest part of the animal, ripped flesh and muscle from bone, licked up blood. We watched him eat, sides still heaving, until the impala’s stomach was exposed. The cheetah would stop, look around, listen for other predators who might want in, get back to his meal. We finally drove away, leaving the cheetah to eat in peace. Some of the people I told were surprised by my excitement at seeing this. It’s the circle of life, survival of the fittest, food chain hierarchy. Other impalas will be born this spring, some will live, some won’t. The odds of seeing a kill in the six days we were on the reserve were against us. As Chris said, we watched something special.
The rest of the day we explored the grounds where we were staying, met up with our friends for lunch, went out for an afternoon excursion. The day’s humidity gave way to a dryer, cooler night. My first night’s sleep was interrupted by the blowing wind which caused the canvass walls of our tent to flap and snap most of the night. I was nervous, kept thinking someone was in our room. I knew what to expect our second night, hoped to sleep through. We watched the sun set from our porch and called it a day.