Day 5 – Speed Queen

Speed Queen
Stepping out of our tent to a raging Talek River was no surprise. The rain had fallen hard all night and the staff from camp told us the rain had been falling all day north of the Mara in the  Mau Forest. The colour of the sky was grey but you could see the sun would eventually burn through. We finished our morning tea and discussed with our guide Godfrey the plan for the day. This was going to be our last game drive at Fig tree. After breakfast we would pack our bags and head south to Keekorok.
As we slowly drove out from camp ahead of two other vehicles, the extreme silence of the Mara was broken by the roar of a hot air ballon taking off. Godfrey told us that the Masai had a full long night of defending their cattle and although the lions had moved on they were still in the area, we had a good chance of an encounter. Slowly moving along the South side of the Talek River Godfrey informed us that the Masai had reported a Cheetah hunting along the river’s edge. Not before long we found our Cheetah, she emerged from the bushes right in front of us, she was in hunting mode! Several Dik Dik’s could be seen running around and kept catching the eye of our hungry female. For 20 minutes she stalked and dashed into the bushes but with no luck, each dash ended without success. We decided to stay with our Cheetah and as she moved away from the river’s edge she disappeared into the bush. On the far side of the bush line, 500 meters away lay a herd of Impala but no sign of our hungry cat. We moved along in the hope that she had seen the Impala and was planning an attack, for almost half an hour we sat tight and waited, would she return?
Suddenly emerging from the bush line behind our vehicle she appeared, she had seen the Impala, it was now a waiting game! With a light cross wind every now and then the Impala on the edge of the herd became startled, they could smell the Cheetah but could not see her, Well camouflaged by a loan bush, she sat looking  directly at the herd picking out her victim. As much as she was planning her attack I was wondering if she was testing our patients as yet again she made us wait almost an hour before deciding to make any move on the Impala.
After much planning she was about to show us one of the fastest onslaughts we would ever witness!
The closest Impala on the edge of the herd made a big mistake. It had turned its back on where it repeatedly had thought there might be danger looming. Without any hesitation, our hungry cat’s hunting instinct went into overdrive. Immediately she stooped low to the ground and crept out from behind the bush crawling out towards nearer cover. Just at that point the Impala stopped, turned around and sniffed the air, it knew something was not right! Frozen in a low crouching position the Cheetah did not move, waiting for the Impala’s short memory to forget there could be danger. Then with no warning a few strides turned in to a short dash and then BANG! The chase was on! The Cheetah was at full speed, the reaction of the Impala was lightening quick in response, it too was off at full pace trying to escape! The herd dispersed with much confusion … they must have thought – where did she come from!
To our disappointment the chase was moving away from us, the Cheetah and the Impala was dashing from left to right making unbelievable tight turns. Every move the Impala made, the Cheetah mirrored, and then they both disappeared over the crest of the hill! All five vans that sat waiting for the action to begin started their engines, surely the Cheetah had caught the Impala! There was a track that led to the other side and we all decided to head over there. Then from our right hand side where we first saw the Cheetah just as we started to move, something was running towards us, it was a Thompson Gazelle! And then out from the bush line in hot pursuit, our Cheetah was in chase! With the Cheetah running off in one direction and then within seconds later heading back towards us, I was caught completely off guard and with the speed that both animals were travelling, I had no chance of catching any photos of the chase. This was our first full on Cheetah chase, and what a rush! Seeing these cats run on TV does not do justice to the sheer raw speed these cats have.
As she reached our vehicle at speeds close to 70mph, the Thompson made one life saving manoeuvre that would allow it to escape to safety. 15 to 20 meters away from our vehicle the Thompson turned towards our van and then immediately turned away, it was using us as defence. With this last turn towards the van, the Cheetah was forced to ease off the power in fear of hitting us and injuring her self allowing the Thompson to escape! I was left thinking, if only she had reached out…. The Thompson would have lost it’s footing and crashed in to our van….. The Cheetah would have had a meal! But I guess living in the Mara you need to know when the battle is lost and when not to take chances?
Completely exhausted the Cheetah lay down in front of our vehicle resting, panting heavily, she was not going to be moving for some time. The chase would have used up valuable energy and with a failed hunt, she would need to rest up in order to try again later. After waiting with her for a further half hour we decided to go back to camp and see what was left of our breakfast buffet before our drive on to Keekorok.
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