On 3 January, Lyn and I were out on a game drive when Lyn spotted a leopard sitting under a bush. We drove closer, photographing it as we did so (in case it disappeared). When we got close enough to see is details, however, we realised that this was not a leopard at all, but a cheetah. We then sat astonished – because I for one have not heard of a cheetah sighting in this area before – and watched it for half an hour or so until darkness fell and the animal – an adult male – lay down in the grass.
The next morning, I took my two Staffies for their usual early morning run, with me on a bike. Less than a kilometre from the house – and about 3km from where we'd seen the cheetah the previous evening – I suddenly saw the cheetah trotting across the grassy plain, making a beeline for the younger of our dogs, who was running out in front. I immediately began shouting at the top of my voice and accelerated to try and intercept the cheetah before it reached the dog. Fortunately, the dog stopped at the sound of my voice, although the cheetah ignored me; it and I arrived at the dog almost simultaneously. The cheetah then became aware of the presence of this purple-faced, obese, bellowing human and doubled back, while the pooch decided to run off across the plain, more or less in the direction of home (the other, older dog, who is very canny, had in the meanwhile turned tail and headed at a trot for the house).
The sight of the dog running across the plain was too much for the cheetah, who came in for a second attack; and once more, was confronted by an even more purple-faced, now hoarse (but arguably slimmer) humanoid apparition-- made worse by the fact that I was now having to dodge aardvark/warthog burrows during my Lance Armstrong-like sprint to cut it off.
This time, as the cheetah (fortunately) again turned away, I carried on pursuing it until we'd put a few hundred metres between it and the dogs. Then, I rejoined the dogs and persuaded them to accompany me homeward.
At that moment, Lyn, having heard my various shouts from the house and assuming that her stupid old spouse had fallen off his bike and broken a leg or something, came hurtling around the corner in her bakkie, with the result that we who had just escaped being a cheetah's breakfast almost became a multiple roadkill instead!
Fortunately, she had thought to grab a camera on her way (no first aid kit or medicinal brandy, note), so we loaded the dogs into the bakkie and went back onto the plain to look for the cause of all the excitement. Within minutes, we found the cheetah, sitting serenely on a termite mound, surveying a plain filled with all manner of delectable dishes. You could almost hear him: "Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo ...".
We went out again later in the day and subsequently, but have had no further sightings or seen any spoor (but it has been raining a bit too).
Let me take this opportunity to ask Conservancy members about your experiences with cheetah:
How often have you seen cheetah?
Are they commonly around the area?
What do you know about their behaviour, prey, territorial range, etc.?
Does "my" cheetah's behaviour sound rational in your experience?
Here are some responses to Richard's questions. Let us hear from more of you with cheetah experiences. Also, we'd like to hear from you about any of your exciting and/or rare game encounters in the Waterberg.
Andrew Parker (Welgevonden) writes: We have several cheetah on Welgevonden and there are records of quite a few free-roaming cheetah in the area – in fact the free-roaming population comprises the largest component of the remaining cheetah population in SA. We recently hosted a workshop organised by the EWT to formulate a strategy for the management of the broader cheetah population in the Vaalwater area as a metapopulation. I'm sure there is a lot more cheetah activity on farms than people are aware of.
Kelly Abram (Leopard Creek Reserve) writes: When I first moved to this area, I attended a talk by Kelly Wilson who was with De Wildt and was carrying out a research project on cheetah in the Waterberg and surrounding area. Her findings were that the population of cheetah was quite high and they seemed to be doing very well, having even learned to hunt more efficiently using fences to chase game into. She was surveying the population using a microlight, as she reported it is rare to see the cheetah from the ground. I have also heard of cheetah being in the northern part of the Waterberg area from neighbours and friends. From what I have heard, they seem to be roamers who don't stay too long in one location.
Clive Walker says: There are certainly cheetah on Lapalala. They should not be seen as a threat to walkers, cyclists, etc., although very small children on their own could be vulnerable.