Have you ever been so fixed on a particular far-off object that you failed to notice an opportunity right under your nose?
This morning I was watching two cheetah brothers reclining oh so elegantly on a termite mound in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. I’ve been staying at Little Makalolo, a gorgeous down-to-earth camp with a big heart.
It’s been so long since I’ve spent proper quality time with cheetahs and I was in my element, savouring every tail flick, lick and whimsical tear-framed gaze, marvelling at their absolute acceptance of our presence.
It was just Charles (my fantastic guide) and I, with no other vehicle in sight. The serenity of the scene was having a wonderfully calming effect on us because we both sat silently, each in our separate worlds, for quite some time. Eventually I broke the spell and suggested we reach for the tea basket. It was a brilliant suggestion and there we sat dunking homemade biscuits and watching the cheetahs from the two front seats of the Land Cruiser.
It was at least forty minutes before the cheetahs showed any hint of moving from their resting place. Suddenly – but with the greatest elegance – one of them leapt up; something had caught his attention. Scanning around we saw a herd of large kudu bulls in the distance. Our nonchalant drowsy cats changed into sleek amber-eyed hunters… it was quite a transformation! If I had to put music to the scene it would be played by a violin; immaculate staccato notes building up to dramatic drawn out resonances as the cheetahs began prowling through the long yellow grass.
I watched with almost equal concentration, yet the large antelope still seemed quite far away, would they manage to pull this off without being seen? The brothers paused and climbed another termite mound, gracefully surveying their options.
Meanwhile, Charles drew my attention to a little steenbok, a mere ten metres from the cheetah. The steenbok was too busy looking at us to notice the cheetahs and the cheetahs were too distracted by the kudu to notice a perfectly delicious meal right under their noses. Like a flash, the steenbok took off in the direction of the cheetah – we held our breaths – the cats exploded into action; every muscle pumping with purpose. In a grand crescendo of dust, paws and hooves (crossing the road right in front of us) the steenbok got away by the gap of a whisker.
As for the cheetahs, even the very best make mistakes sometimes. Had they paid less attention to the kudu and taken more notice of their immediate surroundings, perhaps the outcome would have been different. On the other hand, having big dreams can pay off too. Did they ever manage to chase down one of those kudu bulls? They padded off into some thicker woodland so we left them, grateful to have witnessed a little part of their wild lives.