Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 07/07/2012

Too Cute For Words

Cheetah Cub, originally uploaded by

All too soon, it’s our last day on the Mara and another early start. Even though the night has been filled with the sounds of elephants and hippo both close to camp, we’re up before the sun rises and with just a cup of coffee as sustenance, we’re off again. We’re taking a different route this morning, heading to the interior of the Mara based on another tip off… nope, not Leopards (we’re resigned to not seeing any this year… honest… sniff… sniff), something equally beautiful which we have already seen on this trip.. Cheetah. There have been reports of two male cheetah being spotted hunting which means they will be taking time out to digest their meal. Unlike other big cats, Cheetah don’t return to their kills, eating only fresh meat which means they have to hunt more regularly than their less choosy relatives the lions and leopards. We’ve been driving for twenty minutes now, and we’ve reached the top of a ridge and can see vehicles below us which appear to have found something, clustered together as occurs in such situations. Sammy uses a pair of high power binoculars to determine whether these are “the animals we’re looking for” (as opposed the Droids we’re NOT looking for (Old Jedi Mind Trick)), they’re not, but as Sammy is scanning the plains below us, Patrick receives a call on his mobile phone (yes, Masai warriors have mobiles too – they’re on Red though… not Orange) and all of a sudden we’re heading back the way we came and within less than half a mile we meet a vehicle heading towards us. As is the custom, both vehicles slow down… drivers shake hands and an exchange of information takes place. Whilst they’re talking, we greet the other safari goers who inform us that two cheetah have just walked across the road only five minutes ago.. they must have waited for us to pass before they crossed! We’re all now frantically scanning to see whether we can see these beautiful beasts and after ten minutes search we find them, they’re a way away from the road, resting on a mound, surveying their habitat.

We manage to get close to the two beasts, they’re totally unconcerned by our presence and having taken a number of photos we head back to the main road but we’re not done just yet and we’re driving along tracks that don’t look like they’re been used recently. The route keeps climbing and climbing, the grass at waist height the same as we’ve experienced during all our explorations of the Mara. Ahead of us, the grass now appears darker and as we get closer we realise that we’re heading towards a herd of Water Buffalo. I’ve seen herds before, five.. sometimes as many as ten Buffalo gathered together but this exceeds this.. and then exceeds that – there has to be around 1000 animals in this and it’s a breathtaking sight. Whilst we’re photographing the animals, Patrick (our guide) points out a disturbing spectacle to our left – two full grown buffalo are fighting, though it’s rather one sides, with one animal on the ground being gored by its protagonist. The bellows uttered by the animal in distress are heart wrenching, but there’s little we can, or should do, this is the cruel side of nature and we’re only there to observe. Just when we think that it’s all over, the grounded animal manages to get to its feet and hobbles away and we all breathe a sigh of relief but it’s short lived as the fight starts again, though this time with both animals on their feet it feels little more balanced.

With time running out we head back to camp for breakfast, and we’re all certainly ready for it but just as we think it’s all over (it is now.. oh.. actually it’s not!), we meet happen upon the two cheetah brothers we’ve photographed earlier. They’re walking along the track, with other vehicles following them, and as ever totally unconcerned with all the attention being given to them. Their bellies are distended, full from their earlier meal, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such well fed cheetah – I don’t think they’d be able to reach their top speeds with such full stomachs. We keep bisecting their path, and are often within only feet of these magnificent cats, and I find myself watching them as much as I do photographing them… and even though I’m a photographer, there are times to put down the camera and just marvel at spectacles such as these.


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