Africa Safari (Kenya) Pt.19
The squeal of auto brakes in need of new shoes snaps me out of the hypnotic drowsiness our rhythmic side to side rocking across the savanna has caused. It is 11:00am and the hot sun has made my body lazy and my eyelids heavy. Our early morning departures and my late night photo management sessions are finally catching up with me. The vehicle slowly rolls to a stop. We haven’t seen wildlife for at least an hour as the increasing intensity of the sun leaves animals in the same state I am. David, our guide extraordinaire, hops out onto the running board and scans the horizon with his ever present binoculars. With his vast understanding of animal behavior, he checks the tops of all the abandoned termite mounds knowing daytime predators will be trying to gain an observation point.
“Hold on, Cheetah at 10 o’clock.” As the Rover lurches forward, a bolt of adrenaline races through my frame sending me into hyper-sensitivity. My mind is suddenly racing, analyzing light conditions and lens selection for the perfect exposure. I have been here almost two weeks and this is the first Cheetah we have seen. Do not screw this up!
The sun is high in the sky. I don’t want the brightness washing out all the color in the Cheetah so I put my white balance on cloudy to warm up the yellows and browns. Focusing tight in on its eyes, I can immediately see the distinguishing “black teardrops” that quickly set it apart from the Leopards we had seen earlier.
Unlike Lions, Cheetahs are daylight hunters. They rely on keen sight for a successful hunt.
The color and patterns of its coat offers camouflage in the deep golden grass as the Cheetah silently and slowly stalks its prey.
With a smaller head and leaner frame than a Leopard, Cheetahs are built for speed. They can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 3 seconds. That is faster than a Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini. They would smash man’s World Record in the 100 meter dash by cutting it almost in half. And can you imagine traveling down the highway at 65 miles an hour and having a Cheetah pass by doing 70 to 75 mph? Just be glad you are not a speedy 45 mph Grant Gazelle!!
Its long tail acts as a rudder for quickly shifting directions in pursuit of evasive prey. They actually drop their prey by tripping them. Once down, a strangle hold on the underside of the neck will finish the job. Researchers estimate Cheetahs are successful in an astounding 50 per cent of their chases. This may help explain why they are so easily driven off their kill by any larger predator. They devour their food at a pace matched only by my friend, Roger Finck, who learned his speed-eating techniques at his college fraternity dining table.
Cheetahs will usually have 3-5 cubs at a time. Mom will teach her young the ways of survival on the plains for 18 -24 months and then send them on their way. The mortality rate during this period is extremely high. These late adolescent cubs seem to be mastering the lesson book.
These guys seem perfectly suited for life in the tall grass.