Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Cheetah Wakes Me Up

Sleep outs where a highlight of the course for me and our last one was the one I will remember the most.
Our last practice drive turned out to be one of the best so far. We headed out with a plan to focus on mammals and animal behaviour but since it was also birding big day and the only half the group that came where the birders we also tried to get over 100 birds in a day. We had a very successful day spotting 110 birds by the time we went to bed. The 100th bird was a special, an amethyst sunbird, only the second we have seen here so far. A few days later we learnt that we had set an Amakhala record beating the previous record of 104 birds in a day which made us all proud.                                                                                                               

       As it was the last group sleep out we looked for a special place to stay and we settled on a camp site in amongst the thicket with close enclosed borders but very open and spacious inside. It was like it had been built for us by nature with black backed weavers and green wood hoopoe nesting in the trees and a spongy ground covering of soft leaves and grass. Since the rhino, buffalo and elephant where in the area we blocked all entrances off with branches, not to stop the animals but to give us a warning. As such we had to be very vigilant on night shift because of the close proximity of big game. Fortunately we had no visitors durning the night except for an inquisitive barn owl. As dawn broke we all woke to listen to the bird calls of the dawn chorus and ate breakfast. Since night shifts had been so intense we all had a 2 hour sleep and since it was daylight no-one stayed on watch.
The cheetah who said hello
After a sleep I woke to a rustling in the thicket nearby. Everyone else was fast asleep in the middle of the thicket. I slowly lifted my head to check what the sound was and I saw a male cheetah had entered camp and was 5m way from my roll mat! My first thought was “Leopard!, oh no its just a cheetah.......It’s a cheetah!”. I tried to get the attention of Mike, our facilitator, in the most silent way possible by whispering as loud as I could. Mike sat up quickly wondering what was going on and as he did the cheetah saw us, took fright and bounded off through the trees. I don't know who was more scared, us or the cheetah. For the next half hour Mike and I could not stop laughing and returning to sleep was out of the question for us.

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