Game viewing without getting out of bed!?
When I talk about safari I often find my mind drifting off to all the amazing experiences that I have had in all the incredible places that I have lived or visited. For me part of the fun of safari is sharing these stories around the fire with a glass of wine or a Gin an Tonic while waiting for dinner. Hearing the incredible things that other people have experienced only fuels my love for travel and makes me add to the ever growing number places on my ‘must see’ list. Over the next few months I am going to share just a few of my highlights from years travelling in Africa and beyond, if you have heard me talk at camera clubs and the like I will try not to repeat myself too often!
The following story happened to me while I was on safari in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania and remains one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had, it is a story that has been oft told around the campfire and is a memory that will stay with me forever.
I was on my second to last stop in Ruaha after a week or so on safari travelling around Southern Tanzania visiting properties, we had arrived and the lovely Kigelia camp in a remote part of the part. After an INCREDIBLE day seeing Lion, Leopard and Cheetah it was time to turn in for the night.
Kigelia is a classical tented camp and the sort of place that I really love, we were sleeping with the sides of the ‘tent’ rolled up with the heavy duty mosquito netting left down, this is great thing to do at any time of year as you can feel the gentle breeze through your tent, smell the African air and hear the soft sounds of the bush, but this was November and the temperature made it almost a necessity as well.
The moon was full and at about 2am I was woken by the sound of the dry leaves of the Sausage Tree (Kigelia), I raised myself onto my elbows to try and see to my left, looking to see what it was that was making this rustling noise. I couldn’t make it out but I knew that it was too quiet to be a hippo or an elephant and must be some sort of antelope picking through the debris on the floor.
At that moment there was a flurry of activity, an impala dashed along the side of the tent, over the guy rope and across the front, open apart from the mosquito net, the impala was then closely followed by a pursuing cheetah..!!! My heart was in my mouth, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a hunt, in front of my tent, at 2am!!
The Cheetah lost out and gave up just as it passed our tent, as the impala hurried off into the night, the dissapointed cheetah stood for a second made a sort of snort to show its dissatisfaction and slunk off down the riverbank to the dry riverbed below.
There are so many things that make this experience incredible, Cheetahs are not a nocturnal hunter, they hunt by sight and as such stick to good visibility conditions, the second thing is that Kigelia is located in an area of scrub and bushes, which is an environment that Cheetahs avoid for hunting. After calming down I drifted back to sleep making sure that I new where I was looking for spoor tomorrow…
Spoor is the term used to describe track or scent left by an animal and I knew that there would be some debate over whether or not I saw what I saw, so it was important to me to find the marks left by a cheetah. You see it would be quite possible that this was a leopard on the hunt and I had been mistaken in my sleepy state but a Cheetah has a very distinctive print, with only partially retractable claws, and much to my relief I found them, all the way from under the Sausage Tree to the edge of the bank… so I wasn’t dreaming and this, until now, is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me in Africa and I am sure that it will be a long time before I see another hunt from the comfort of my own bed!
Stay tuned for more of Tom’s safari best bits in the coming weeks as he shares some of his favourite Africa experiences.