DAY THREE 31ST MARCH 2007
My thought was to drive through Marloth park and enter from Croc Bridge the as a result of which we had to be up extra early, showered, dressed, packed the vehicle, settled all passengers in and drove off from Malelane and according to the day permit I have in front of me, we were processed at 6.13 am on Saturday the 31st of March 2007, a day which will go down in my record book of visits to the Kruger. A day never to be forgotten, a day to savour over and over. A day that will live on as long as I live. A day some people who decided to sleep the morning away will regret for the rest of their lives. A day regarding which they will repeatedly say, “If only...”
Our first sighting for the morning along the tar road was vervets cavorting and playing in the early morning. We had a cute little eighteen month old girl who is just learning to talk and on her gaze falling on these vervets she jubilantly uttered, “Se, see!!!” this was an added thrill to the sighting. We turned onto the S28 and saw a huge male waterbuck in the tall grass there. After spending a few moments with it we carried on dowm the S 28 when one of the womenfolk said she thinks she had seen a rhino close to the where we saw the waterbuck. We thus turned around and headed back to find nothing other than the waterbuck. We considered it a good omen to be back at the tar road and now decided to drive up to LS along this route. The entire drive was sparse in terms of game, all we saw on this stretch of road was a giraffe and an
eagle. We drove to Sunset Dam saw the hippos there and then entered LS. Here I met a gentleman who informed us that he had seen Duke at Mlondozi Dam. This basically decided the
route to take for us. After sorting ourselves out, we set off across the bridge and turned onto the S29 Mlondozi Loop.
Along this loop we saw a number of elephant bulls but none of them turned out to be Duke. As we neared the turnoff to the picnic spot, we met some people coming from there who had seen some rhinos from there. Instead of going there to see those rhinos, we decided to continue and drive along the S 29and then along the S 30 Salitje road. At the H 10 - S 29 intersection we saw a pair of white rhinos busy grazing. Somehow we did not spend much time with them and
moved on. Again, the road was sparse in terms of even general game. All we saw was a lilac breasted roller with which we sat for a while till it flew off allowing us a view of its beautiful wing colours. This was followed by a troop of baboons on the road. There was one female with a very cute baby sleeping on her back. Shortly after leaving them we met someone coming from the opposite side who said that the road was very quite and apart from giraffe, he had seen nothing else.
Not even three to four minutes later we came to a dip in the road at the bottom of which was parked a four by four at an angle inclined towards the right. As I came close, he indicated for me to approach even slower, which I did. The moment I spotted what they were looking at I turned off the ignition and allowed the car to gently roll down. There, diagnolly to our right sat a CHEETAH in the long grass eying a herd of impalas grazing on the opposite side of the road totally oblivious of his presence. He was at the lowest point of the dip while they were grazing on the incline opposite him. We sat there wondering whether success or failure was to be his lot
today, for this was the third time I had seen cheetah in close proximity to impalas and on both the previous occasions, no kill did we witness. As these thoughts filtered through my mind, I
saw him stand up...take a few tentative steps...sit down and keep a keen eye on his potential prey. Once more did he stand up and inch his way forward. We had arrived there at 9.04 and
watched him for four minutes, in which time he neared the shoulder of the road, but before he could even step onto the road, they became attuned to his presence and suddenly impalas were fleeing into the bush. “Oh well,” I thought, “he will probably give chase now and disappear in the bush along with them.”
Instead, he ran to the opposite edge of the road and then shot up the incline where about sixty meters ahead, he ran into the bush in an attempt to cut them off. His ploy succeeded, for we saw two impalas run back onto the road and the next thing we saw was this cheetah making contact with the second impala to emerge from the bush. No sooner
was this contact made and we lost sight of both the predator and the prey.
The driver of the other vehicle and I both switched on our ignition and drove up the incline. Being ahead of me, he reached there first and parked, indicating for me to come and park in front of him. This way, we both had the perfect view of the cheetah crouching with its head resting on the impala’s neck, its haunches raised up and facing us. This was at 9.10 am. For the next three minutes it remained in this position until the impala which we saw lifting off the ground in its final death throe. Now, after successfully killing its prey, the cheetah stood up and warily surveyed the surroundings for fear of any other predators or scavengers. Once fully at ease and satisfied that it was alone, it sat back down. Not even for a minute did it focus its attention on the meal before it and once more stood up to tensely appraise the situation.
Confidant that it would not be disturbed, it sat down to its meal but time and again it lifts its head glancing in every possible direction in between its feeding. Exactly seven minutes after it killed the impala, the first vulture landed not far behind the cheetah. Very quickly, the one vulture became, two, three, five, seven, nine, eleven. As more of them landed, they plucked up enough courage to creep closer at which point the cheetah got up and rushed towards them with a snarl causing them to shrink away. Turning his attention back to his prey he continued feeding for a short while when again the horde advanced towards him. For a second time he
valiantly drove them away but on their third advance, he lost courage, got up and walked right past us and crossed back to the other side of the road. In all, we had been two cars that
witnessed the actual kill. A third car had joined us to witness the feeding and a fourth vehicle approached from the opposite direction spent about three or four minutes and drove away while the cheetah was still busy with its meal. The other two cars now focused their attention on the feeding frenzy of the vultures, but we decided to turn the vehicle around and see how long we could keep the cheetah in sight. It wove its way around the sparse bushes until it reached a thicket and disappeared from sight. My daughter suggested that we drive down the dip and wait at the bottom for it to emerge. Parked at the bottom of the dip, we saw it step out of the thicket
and work its way back in the direction of Lower Sabie while walking parallel to the road. We gave it space and slowly followed until it became confidant enough to step onto the road and in this manner we followed it for about five hundred meters at which point it crossed the road once more walking towards another herd of impalas, where it stood and mulled the situation over. Deciding to give them a break, it walked towards the river and finally disappeared from sight. In total we had spent forty six minutes with this beautiful cheetah. on turning around and driving back to the impala, nothing other than a horde of vultures was visible. Definitely the highlight of this trip.
We continued along Salitje road and came across another herd of impalas and a group of five ground hornbills close to them. This was followed by zebra and a vervet standing on the road.
We were soon at the Skukuza turn and decided to give the camp a miss. Driving on we were soon on the S 114 working our way down towards Malelane till we came to the Bume road
turn and decided to make a detour via Mpondo Dam. Here we saw a lioness busy feeding on a wildebeest while another two lionesses were sleeping after having gorged themselves to
capacity. This was on the opposite side of the dam and did not allow for great pics. After a short stint here, we drove down the H 5 Randspruit road, the S 114 and then Mlambane road. As we got to the James water hole we saw pack of wild dogs resting on the perimeter of the water hole. We click a quick two shots and carried on since my son needed a bathroom urgently. Soon enough we were out of the park, packed and ready for our drive home. A short but excellent trip.
Anja was ther one to guess correctly