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January 20, 2019

Cheetah, my friend in the Kenyan wild

THE BIG CAT: I can go to any length, and prolong a game drive to the last second of the allowed time, just to look for a cheetah.
THE BIG CAT: I can go to any length, and prolong a game drive to the last second of the allowed time, just to look for a cheetah.

Every time I am in the bush, the one question that never escapes the interest of my clients is, “which park do you love most?” I usually do not have an answer to that since all parks are good to me.

 Each park in Kenya has its own uniqueness in terms of its attraction to nature lovers. If it is Nakuru, it has the allure of bird watchers who marvel at the site of millions of flamingos.

As of now, since there are no flamingos, it does not mean that people no longer visit Lake Nakuru. There are the white rhinoceroses which, due to the increase in their numbers, are easily seen wondering along the shores of the lake. Lake Bogoria used to be the spillover basin for the flamingos from Lake Nakuru.

 Now it is the home of the flamingos after they migrated from their traditional home, Lake Nakuru when it flooded and diluted its saline waters.

But even before the fortunes of Lake Bogoria changed, it had its own offerings that attracted tourists, both international and local.

The hot springs and geysers are seen nowhere else in such clarity and easy accessibility. I can go on naming each park and its magical pull to the naturalists, but the bottom line is that those who created the parks knew their trade and were passionate of wildlife and nature conservation. They saw in each park, a reason to conserve the area, either for its aesthetic value or a specific species conservation area.

 There is another question frequently asked by both international and local tourists. “What animal is your favourite in the wild and why do you like it?”

 For this question, I usually have a ready answer. My favourite animal in the wild is the cheetah. No wonder then, any park that I know that a cheetah can be seen, is a hot favourite park for me.

I have a soft spot for a cheetah. I can go to any length, and prolong a game drive to the last second of the allowed time, just to look for a cheetah.

And it is for the same reason that during my studies in animal science, I paid more attention to the big cats, the so called super predators, but concentrated more on learning about the behaviours of a cheetah. The more I got to know about this species of a cat, the more I loved it and the more I would like to contribute to its success in survival.

 I am painfully alive to the fact that very few people want to work in an environment where they can actively participate in assuring the survival of the cheetah.

As is evidence in the cheetah plains of the greater Mara region, most of us who handle tourists, are usually out to impress our clients by making sure we show them the big cats, and more so, the big cats in action.

 Cheetahs are the fastest land mammals. That is the first thing a driver/guide gets to know about a cheetah. And there is nothing more exciting to a novice guide, than to show a client, a cheetah in full flight.

That has to be when the cheetah is hunting. Without any other information about the survival tactics of a cheetah, or the science involved in the preparation and the actual take off speed of a cheetah hunting, most guides will always miss the target of witnessing a full cheetah hunt, from prey identification, choice of flight path, determination of the flight distance and the actual build up of the speed.

 The excitement that builds up in the tourists and their drivers during the build up to a possible cheetah hunt blinds them from observing the behaviour of the prey. In the survival of the species, both hunters and the hunted must evolve equally to counter the adversities of life. The predator must remain alive by making sure his hunting skills are horned at all times.

 He must remain healthy and wise in order to have a successful hunt each time he tries. On the other hand, the prey must employ all the required tactics to remain alive. He must learn the entire trick that will ensure he is not on the dinner table each time a hunter is hungry. This is called, co-evolution.

 Co-evolution is critical to the survival of both hunter and hunted. But we, humans, and more so, those who work in areas where these animals live, are negatively interfering with the balance of nature in as far as the cheetah is concerned.

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