This post is from a journal entry from October 2022
After consuming some coffee, tea, and biscuits, we loaded into our safari vehicles just before sunrise. The crisp air against our faces ensured nobody fell asleep. We crossed a river, turned left, and headed down one of the many roads outside of Thakadu River Camp. Within the first mile, the driver hit the brakes hard and shouted “Cheetah!” You could almost feel the excitement in the air. One of our group had previously gone on safari in South Africa but had seen no cats. No other client had ever visited Africa, so this cat was their first. Only about 6,000 cheetahs are left in the wild worldwide, and seeing one was high on everybody’s wish list.
The cat quickly disappeared into the brush, with our vehicle in pursuit. Mr. T, our guide at Thakadu, was on the radio, immediately letting others know what he saw. Seeing a cheetah on the east side of Madikwe was uncommon, as the amount of brush makes it hard for the world’s fastest land animal to use its speed to an advantage. Everyone understood seeing such a rare animal where it was rarely seen made this sighting genuinely extraordinary!
Two other safari vehicles soon joined us in the brush. The Cheetah was less than cooperative and seemed utterly uninterested in being photographed. Our group quickly became frustrated as the other safari vehicles got within 20 feet of the cat, much closer than us. But our driver was the one who spotted it! The frustration turned into audible groans as our driver headed away from the Cheetah and back onto the road. Madikwe Private Game Reserve’s guides are seasoned professionals who know the animals’ behavior well.
Shortly later, the guide killed the engine, and there were audible “uhs” from many in our vehicle. It took very little time till the Cheetah emerged from the bush and trotted within five feet of our safari vehicle on the dirt road. Those groans were quickly replaced with whispered “wows.” Several others added in “unbelievable” and “awesome!”
At that point, it felt almost like we could depart Madikwe, and the group would be satisfied. However, this was our first morning, and we still had eight more safari drives. By the trip’s end, the group had seen hundreds of species of birds, African elephant, African lion, leopard, black and white rhino, African Buffalo, giraffe, spotted and brown hyena, zebra, and over 20 antelope species. Every person considered the journey a “trip of a lifetime.”