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Spotted big cats

27 Mar 2010 / 0 Comments / in natural world, travels

I find it endlessly thrilling to see any wild creature living free and doing its own thing; from the absurdly common but excessively beautiful impala,  to the ordinary everyday superb starling, so aptly named. But there is a special thrill reserved for encounters with big predators; the carnivores at the top of the food chain, especially the cats which are often hard to see. On our recent trip to East Africa, we were lucky enough  to see lots of cats.

Our first leopard was spotted at Lake Nakuru national park, hanging on a branch very close to the road.

nakuru leopard 1

He didn’t do much except hang out in the tree. And why shouldn’t he? When you only have a few moments with an animal, even a simple thing like a stretch or a change of position seems like a big event.

nakuru leopard 1

It wasn’t long before he returned to sleeping mode.

nakuru leopard 3

We were to see another two leopards, both sleeping in trees, but too far away to get any really good views. Here’s one in the Serengeti.

leopard in tree

Leopards have a wide geographical range and thanks to their secretive nature and genetic strength, they are not at risk of extinction.

Cheetahs, however, are another story. These animals are very seriously endangered. They are genetically extremely weak, their range is increasingly limited, with certain populations geographically isolated which contributes more their genetic weakness, and it is virtually impossible to breed them in captivity. And they are habitually shot by farmers protecting their livestock. Thanks to Chinese medicine (grrr! don’t get me started on that quackery) there is no doubt that within my lifetime, the tiger will be extinct in the wild. I fear that the cheetah will go the same way.

I had seen cheetahs before, but Moth had not. Our first cheetah was spotted a very long way off in the Ngorongoro Crater. Not a great view, but a cheetah nonetheless and I was grateful for that.

cheetah in the ngorongoro

It wasn’t until we reached south Serengeti that we got the cheetah of our dreams. Isn’t she lovely?

cheetah walking

She rolled over and had a dust bath…

cheetah rolling

…resting a while in the dust before…

cheetah lying down

… cantering off…

cheetah running

…crossing the road and disappearing off into the grass.

cheetah leaving

We also saw a caracal which whizzed across the road in front of our van. Sighting of these whippet-sized cats are extremely rare, so I consider myself very lucky. Unfortunately the sighting was so brief, we have no photo. Nevertheless I won’t forget its sandy-coloured coat and pointy black ears in a hurry.

Photos: Moth Clark

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