Tshukudu Cheetah Walk

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Lolo needs to take a pee, but given that we’re out in the bush, the ranger has little to tell her other than to pop a squat behind the shrubs right back here. He and I hang back to wait for Lolo, letting the head ranger walk ahead with the other four-fifths of this morning’s walking tour.

All of a sudden, the cheetah catches a scent of something, a noise in the bush, and bolts. The head ranger stops mid-sentence, obviously excited to share in the cheetah’s discovery, and moves the group to follow her path.

I put two and two together at the same time as the other field guide, the scene unfolding like a train wreck. I don’t know which choose-your-adventure is worst–Lolo getting pounced on by a cheetah mid-tinkle or a group of middle-aged tourists about to become voyeurs.

Luckily, the irony stays ironical, for we manage to burst out that, no! no! the cheetah’s just going for Lolo and we swear you don’t want to see a chica peeing, stopping the crowd while ranger number two goes for Lolo, who emerges blushing but unscathed, her discretion busted, cheeks wet from cheetah slobber.

It’s Wednesday, and Geraldine, Lizzy, Lolo and I are out on a cheetah walk with Greg, Daktari’s guide extraordinaire, at Tshukudu Bush Lodge. We’ve been awake since 4:45 this morning but are wired on adrenaline and excitement, loaded on rusks–South Africa’s biscotti–and coffee and giddy as school girls to be fielding the bush with this cheetah cub gal.

Cheetahs, I learn, are at the bottom of the feline food chain, hence their super speed and daytime hunting. They have to be fast and furious during the day to survive their stronger competition, boasting black stripes beneath their eyes like baseball players to block the sun’s glare. Because cheetah living is harsh, mommas can’t expend energy on runt cubs and orphaned cubs abound, the result of preyed-upon mommas.

That’s how Tshukudu came upon their little cheetah love, a beautiful, curious gal who slinks alongside us, spine flexible, bending this way and that, playing, pouncing. She was the runt of her litter, her brothers out and about the reserve, and the field hands here bottle-raised her.

Now, she’s the oblivious star, stealing the show from the dung beetle we encounter, nose to the grindstone as his hind legs peddle balls of poo downhill, a vital member of the bush clean-up crew.

Our gal poses with us, standing and lying still while we wrap around her until the wind catches her attention and sends her speeding along.

Then, halfway through our walk, we’re met with another golden surprise–rhinoceros! One of the oldest species of land mammals, this armored herbivore is on the sad road to rapid extinction if we don’t counter the Asian market’s demand for the horn, fabled for stopping cancer and making a man’s erection long and hard, just like the horn itself.

To counter vapid poaching, game reserves shave the rhino horns, holding the goods in unmarked, vaults, worth more than the price of gold and over which rivers of blood have flown. The rhinos are tranquilized, horns shorn at the nose. Since the horn is made of cuticle, it grows back, but for a couple of years at least, the beasts are in the clear unless the butchers are completely desperate.

Some farms publicize their shorn rhinos; others try to avoid broadcasting the existence of rhinos on their land, period. It’s total war fare out here with shoot-to-kill orders, night missions, border patrol, and helicopter shoot outs. The Vietnamese and Chinese pay beaucoups of dollars, and to these unemployed South African men, it’s big appeal.

Unfortunately, at this pace, the rhino will be wiped clean from the slate come 2020.

So, I am both saddened and amazed to see these beautiful, white rhinos. For an eternal moment, we play hide-and-go sneak with the wide-mouthed grazers, cheetah sleeping blissfully in their midst, unawares of their presence ’til the absolute last minute.

The walk ends on a high note with us poised between cheetah and rhino, a strange yet fortuitous combination.

Back at camp, a real brunch awaits us, sealing our cheetah walk and gearing us up for adventure number two.

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This entry was published on November 14, 2012 at 01:05. It’s filed under South Africa and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Tshukudu Cheetah Walk

  1. That’s terrifying and awesome at the same time.

  2. Bring me back a cheetah, k, thanks.

  3. Graham on said:

    You are absolutely BEAMING in these photos!! I think I can see on your face in that first photo just how giddy you really are! That’s pretty much the coolest thing. I’m so jealous.

  4. Alain van Doosselaere on said:

    Ces photos sont extraordinaires et ton recit passionnant. Je t’ envie enormement, mais tu merites ces moments. Enjoy

  5. Une journée excellente en ta compagnie, haha je n’oublierais jamais ce moment derrière le fameux buisson de Tshukudu !

  6. Ralf S on said:

    Wow, magical! Would love to visit this park…..all the more so with the threat of extinction of rhinos (and others) in the wild so menacingly near.

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