A massive wildebeest herd fills the horizon. The occasional bird drifts by overhead. The ground is covered with sage-colored scrub brush and tufts of brighter green grass – a sign of recent rains. Barely the hint of a breeze blows by as the mid-afternoon sun blazes in a cloudless, pale blue sky.
All is hushed as we wait – one solitary safari vehicle surrounded by the vast glory of the African plain.
Suddenly, near the horizon, a flash of movement to the left, and then a cloud of dust. The wildebeest, calm and unconcerned just moments earlier, now scramble, confused and disorganized. The herd becomes a dark mass stampeding off to the right.
Within seconds, we are bouncing wildly in our vehicle as it rumbles over 300 yards of rough terrain to the center of the action. There, the two cheetahs we’ve been stalking for an hour skillfully, efficiently wrestle a one-year-old wildebeest to the ground. For several minutes, it’s all legs, tails and teeth amid grunts and shrieks.
The action slows… and the feast begins. The two cheetahs – likely brothers – take turns, one gorging while the other on alert for threats to their hard-earned prize.
Thanks to our excellent ADS guide, Wilfred, my family and I were in the right place at the right time to watch this scene unfold. He had shown time and again his knack for sensing drama about to happen. And he was a storehouse of knowledge about the animals, their habits and physiology.
Driving down the road from Gol Kopjes to Naabi Hill, Wilfred had spotted one male cheetah sitting up in the tall grass, and then another a short distance away – a coalition.
It only took his one comment, “These brothers are ready to hunt,” and we were all in for the adventure.
And so we stalked the cheetahs, watching one brother become the eager leader, and the other, a lazy follower. They slinked through the grass separately, covering the half-mile distance to their prey with frequent stops to lounge and covertly survey their surroundings. We heard the lead cat communicating in low growls the encouragement his brother needed to pursue their dinner.
And our patience paid off.
This was the fourth ADS safari for my husband, Don, and me, but it was extra special because our two adult children, Chris and Stephanie, were able to come with us. Each Tanzanian adventure has had highlights – but none as memorable as this. The day before, we’d seen another cheetah kill in the Ndutu Woodland, and a day later, a jackal bringing down a black stork for his supper down in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Oh, and who could forget the hour spent along the road to Big Marsh Valley watching two baby cheetahs – kittens really – tumbling over each other in play under their mother’s watchful eye? Soon after we left the babies, an adult male cheetah got friendly with us, leaping up on the hood of our vehicle and staring curiously at us through the windshield for a few interesting minutes before jumping down.
While the cheetah sightings were many – more than any previous safari – we encountered the full spectrum of African wildlife during our eight days in the bush: elephant herds (we counted roughly 460 elephants, including many babies, in one day at Tarangire Park), black rhino, hippo, lions, leopard, hyenas, giraffe, zebra, cape buffalo, birds of every size and color, and the rare caracal. We even saw a wildebeest giving birth.
Chris and I took thousands of photos, while Stephanie recorded the action. Her videos can be viewed below:
After full days of game viewing, we were always happy to get back to our lodgings for a relaxing shower, a delicious dinner and plenty of lively conversations about all we had seen. We never lacked for subject matter.
We combined stays at Sametu and Lion’s Paw camps with Lake Masek Lodge and Tarangire Treetops. The accommodations and meals were outstanding – topped only by the warm hospitality and service of the staff in each place.
One of our favorite things was eating dinner with Wilfred. Of course we knew about his expertise in animal behavior and navigating treacherous, flooded roads, but this is when we got to know about him and his family life.
We keep going back to Tanzania with ADS because we love the way they take care of every detail. From the greeting at the airport by our friendly host, Faith, to the final send-off going home, we find the ADS staff to be thoroughly professional and competent. Of course, the driver/guide has a lot to do with the safari experience, and Wilfred was outstanding.
My husband and I are hooked on Tanzania and definitely will go back. I have a feeling our kids will, too. We’ve loved every trip with ADS, and I know we’ll use the company again. We can’t imagine being in better hands.
Don, Laima, Stephanie and Christopher V.
Safari Dates: February 6, 2014 to February 15, 2014