I have been lucky to have spent time in the Bush from an early age and when I am asked of my most memorable experience in Nature, one incident springs to mind and even today creates a sense of excitement and awe in me.
There was no blood spilt, no rifles fired and only one quick command to my trailists to STAND STILL and this makes the event even more unforgettable.
I was leading a foot safari from the Lodge with a family of six who were dead keen on nature and all it had to offer. We had been out for about an hour and hadn’t got very far – the dawn chorus of birdsong held everyone enthralled and we were sighting new species for them all the time. We had just crossed a gulley and had gathered round a Silver Cluster leaf to discuss its properties and view a prominent rubbing spot of a Blue Wildebeest.
A large group of Impala slowly ambled into the clearing about 100 metres from us and one by one they stopped to look at us and test the air. I stopped talking as the antelope now held everyone’s attention and the father of the family lifted his camera.
Suddenly, the herd exploded! With alarm snorts and a burst of dust, they came careering towards us. Instinctively, I loaded my rifle and brought it to my shoulder, commanding everyone to “STAND STILL”.
Through the dust, we saw two cheetahs come at full speed into the clearing, in hot pursuit of the impala. This herd had now broken into two groups and were coming past us, no less than 5 metres away. So close that we became part of the action, feeling their panic and sensing their alarm. So close that we could see into their eyes and smell the danger. The cheetahs were totally focused on their target and only had eyes for their intended breakfast and were not even aware of our presence.
Nearer and nearer they came, directly towards us. Suddenly, one of the baby antelope panicked and split away from the torrent of impala coming down our left hand side and stood, trembling, not 5 metres away from us and my immediate thought was that if the closest cheetah selected this as his target, the two of them would come tumbling right into our midst, tangling us up in the process – it would not have been pretty. The cheetah did see the opportunity and altered direction to pounce onto the hapless impala lamb but as he refocused, he saw our group standing there like statues. Skidding to a halt, only about 10 metres away, he signalled the danger to his mate and they broke off the hunt and loped back to the other side of the clearing where a third cheetah joined them. One last look at us and they vanished.
We all stood there, overcome with adrenalin and the experience. It had happened so quickly but every moment was imprinted on my mind and will go with me to my grave. The reactions of my group were interesting – some thought that they were in mortal danger (which they weren’t, as those cheetahs were never going to be a threat to us) whilst the children, who were closest to me, said that I was whispering over and over “it’s OK, it’s OK” so they said they were not worried. The father never took a picture as he took my first command literally and never moved a muscle!
The family was on their first tour ever to South Africa and can you believe, they had already had a cheetah kill right in front of their car the day before in Kruger Park! Ho-Hum!!