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Tswalu - Day Nineteen

Sunset on the Kalahari Desert with silhouetted giraffe, Tswalu, South Africa.  March 2013 Original size 5184x1555px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Magic morning. Went to section of the reserve where some cheetah tracks had been found the previous evening. Got to see Sammy at his best, as he worked the small dirt tracks and took us off road around a watering hole just a 1/2 kilometre from a series of rocky, shrub-covered hills. He finally found fresh tracks and we worked our way though the tall grass in a wide field just at the foot of the hills, when Sammy signalled Marco to kill the engine; he listened for a few minutes and even though none of us could hear anything, he whispered, that they were under some brush about 100 metres away. We chugged our way though the tall grass and sure enough, in regal splendour, stretched out under the shade of a scrub camel thorn were two magnificent, male cheetah, one wearing a leather collar with a radio tracking device attached. We spent a wonderful 1/2 hour with them, two brothers who hunt and roam together, as they played and rambled around, slowly working their way towards the hills where they rest during the day. Cheetah brothers, hunting pair in high grass, Kalahari Desert, Tswalu, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 5184 x 3456px. (Gerald FitzGerald) At one point they engaged in some wonderful behaviour that Marco said was a first for him. As they worked their way towards the hills, they passed under a tree that was carrying a sociable weavers nest in its branches. You should know that many of the small trees in the reserve have such nests which can be massive and we saw a number of examples of nests that were so large that they broke the tree. They are inhabited by groups of the well-named sociable weavers and the nests can be inhabited for many years, during which time they continue to build and expand it so that they can be 2 or 3 metres in height and length and weigh hundreds of kilos. They are not nests as you might think of them, circular open cups, but rather, more like a haystack with occasional holes for entry and exit.

[Cheetah, 10 metres up a tree on the top of a sociable weaver's nest, Tswalu, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 4614x3076px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Now, my conception of cheetahs was that they were land-based animals who could not climb, unlike leopards, however nothing could be further from the truth. In this instance the two cats climbed the tree and spread themselves on top of the nest as if they were lounging on top of a soft, comfortable hay stack. They lolled there for a while as we got some wonderful shots and then climbed down and resumed their slow way up into the hills. Simply breath-taking to watch.

After they had climbed up the side of a very rocky hill where they took cover to get out of the heat of the day and where they could keep an eye on the surrounding countryside, we left to look for lion. Lion resting in the heat of the day, Mala Mala, South Africa. Original size 4708 x 3456 px. (G. FitzGerald)Marco and Sammy knew the general area where they had been seen and as before they worked the tracks until they had a good idea where they were, and once again found them, a large pride of juvenile males and lionesses resting and grumbling under trees in a wide grassy field. Male lion stalking antelope, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 4677 x 2799 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Took lots of shots and then began the drive home when Marco thought he’d check back in to see if the cheetah had come down to drink at their nearby watering hole. There were fresh tracks from their drinking, we missed them at the water hole by only minutes and we picked them up again shortly working their way back to the hills. Again another amazing 1/2 hour with them and then back to the camp. Incredible morning. This afternoon went horseback riding across the veldt for about 90 minutes. The less said about it the better though no fault of Tswalu, the stables or Jason our horseback guide. When you rarely if ever ride, 90 minutes on horseback, cross country is not a happy use of time. Sore, creaky with a pulled shoulder from a bad dismount. For the experienced or the limber, great fun, I guess, but for the rest of us, swallowing razor blades would be a more relaxing afternoon.

Tswalu to Cape Town - Day Twenty

Tswalu - Day Eighteen