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February 17, 2019

No, it wasn't mother cheetah, just croton bush


For those who have been using the modified Land Cruisers that are now the in-thing in the tour industry, you would agree with me that changing the wheel is not a cup of tea. I was late to pick the clients. Just when I was about to drive off, I noticed the car was leaning on one side. It had a flat tyre. It was going to take me another 20 minutes to change the tyre if I remember how to operate the high lift jack. Normally it would take me less than 10 minutes, but this time it took me almost half an hour, and a lot of help from friends to have the Land Cruiser on its feet again.

No amount of encouragement would lift my spirits. But I had a chance to redeem my reputation during the game drive. I said to myself that I was going to show my clients the most elusive animals in the bush, beginning with the cheetah. Before I set off, I contacted my friends on the radio to tell me where to find the cheetah. When I got the general direction where a cheetah with six cubs had been spotted the day before, I set off with high expectations since I was known to have excellent vision for rare game.

I drove for about an hour looking everywhere that looked promising as a hiding place for a cheetah with cubs. Cheetah cubs are known to be active even when the mother is hunting. Many are times when a cheetah mother misses a very easy kill because the cubs interrupted the hunt by exposing the position of the mother. Lions are different. When mother lion is preparing to hunt, the cubs know what to do from a simple growl from the mother. They would dash into hiding and stay down until the hunt is successful, or until the mother calls them when the hunt fails. With that in mind, I knew it was just a matter of time before I spot the cheetah.

I had been driving for more than an hour when my effort paid off. Or so I imagined. Far in the distance, I saw what I was sure was a cheetah in her typical sitting posture. She was sitting comfortably under the shade of an acacia tree. Next to her was a small bush of croton plants. There was continuous movement of the croton leaves and the mother cheetah was facing that direction. It could only mean that the cubs were playing inside the croton bushes. I drove a little faster in the direction of the cheetah.

The clients were upbeat now. I could hear them whisper what I wanted to hear most: "The expert has spotted something." I kept driving along an old track which was laden with huge holes made by porcupines. At times I had to slow down to avoid hitting the holes but I kept my eyes glued to the spot I had seen the cheetah. One of the clients who was most vocal in heaping praises on me to the others asked me what I was after. Since I was elated to have spotted one of their favorite animals, I let him know it was the cheetah with babies that I was after. Much as he tried to scan the horizon to see her, he could not spot the mother cheetah. So I knew it was going to be a sweet surprise when I get there and point the cheetah out for them.

I had driven past the distance that I had spotted the cheetah, but there was no sign of it. The croton bush was behind me now and there was no movement at all. Everything was quiet save for a soft hiss from the breeze hitting the thorn tree. I begun sweating. This was too much over a short time. I had made a complete fool of myself. The sitting cheetah was actually a burnt stem of a tree shaped perfectly like a crouched cheetah. What I thought were cheetah cubs playing, was the effect of a sudden gush of wind that had disturbed the croton plant. There was no cheetah mother, nor cubs.

Nature was telling me with no uncertain terms, to hung up my gloves and let the young ones take the mantle. I am still weighing my options.



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