The cheetah lay in the long grass panting.
Not because of his recent exertions to bring down a teenage wildebeest but because he was getting his breath back from eating his fill. With a swollen belly it was time to let the food settle a little and gaze at the nine safari vans parked a few yards away.
I was one of those; I was looking at close range through a pair of binoculars and noted how androgynously pretty a cheetah is. It’s a magnificent looking cat from up close – the sandy coloured feline head, the tufted ears, the black tear marks under the eyes and that devil-may-care attitude. It knew who its audience was and it wasn’t letting it distract him from enjoying the feeling of a full belly.
The best place to see Cheetahs in the Mara are the plains ten miles south of the Talek Gate so we headed there as early as possible. For the next hour we scoured the plains. The wildebeest were omnipresent and there was a ringed herd of wildbeest nearby which seemed to be gaining centre stage. It was like they were waiting for thousands to catch up. Sure enough two herds came from different directions. They came at an angle, single file – barrelling along and meeting at the apex of a right angle making the herd get bigger by the minute. Watching hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest lollop along was a transfixing sight. The huge herds of wildebeest converged behind the van and the herd just got bigger and bigger.
Then we saw the head poke out of the grass watching the wildebeest.
We realised we had spotted a cheetah. It was still a long way off and could only be seen in detail with binoculars. A small head with a slender body was watching the wildebeest intently. We realised if f we were to see him any closer we would have to move now before others arrived. But that would mean circumnavigating the herd and crossing the stream. The wildebeest were almost hysterical in jumping out of the way of our approaching van.
While we were doing this the cheetah made a kill and brought down a young gnu.
Others had spotted him and by the time we got there three vans were surrounding him with more arriving all the time. He was in the long grass by the side of the track tucking into the meat. We saw the beautiful cat from very close range. He was tearing into the rump with relish. He would look up, watch us, catch his breath and continue eating. We could hear the flesh being torn and gulped down from where we were. Cheetahs eat fast so that other predators do not steal their kills.
We stayed for twenty minutes until there was a crush of ten vans around the Cheetah. He didn’t care and afterwards lay there in post-glutton splendour. We were sorry we missed the kill but were more than satisfied with a close ranging viewing. It’s the kind of drama I’d hoped to see in the Masai Mara.
Easily the highlight of the visit to the park.