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  • Writer's pictureJulian Brookstein

The real spotted cat!

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Anyone who knows Hwange National Park knows that it is one of the better places to look for that elusive cat, the Cheetah. It always seems to come third in the big cat popularity stats. The majority of people that I guide, when asked what is top of their list of things to see, say Lion or maybe Leopard - not many say Cheetah. It is, however, my favourite cat.

If you have driven in Hwange National Park from Sinamatella to Shumba on the road past Mandabvu Dam and Masuma, then you will know the concrete bollard that indicates where you turn off to Robin's Camp. If you know what you are looking for, then you will see that there is always scat on that bollard and you will know it is from a Cheetah. Cheetahs, like most animals, use their droppings to mark territory and they often like to place it on something raised. In many cases it can be a termite mound or in this case a man made termite mound, so to speak. Every time I drive past that bollard, I have a good scan of the surrounding area. I think all guides who are lucky enough to live and work in the wild places of Zimbabwe have spots in the areas where they work that they always pay a little more attention to for one reason or another. This is definitely one of mine for the above reasoning.

Recently on a full day safari out from camp, my guests and I had ended up at Mandabvu dam at about half past three in the afternoon. We were parked at the view point on the Eastern side of the dam, having a cold drink and scanning the dam. Not long after we got there, a few Buffalo began to appear from the behind the hill to our left. Earlier in the day I had told my guests how I had seen a herd of Buffalo two days before that I estimated to be over a thousand animals. They had all nodded and made a few comments that that must have been a sight to see. I had the distinct feeling they were thinking "Yeah right. It’s always the day before we arrive!" Anyway the “few” Buffalo kept coming… and coming… and coming from round the hill. Soon a huge section of the shore was taken up by Buffalo. I could hear one of my guests (a ex Ausi dairy farmer) quietly counting the animals for quite some time. He then whistled softly and proclaimed that there were over one and a half thousand buffalo in front of us. I sat smugly in the front. We sat and watched the herd for about an hour until they started to filter back into the mopane.  We left the dam and headed east for camp, with everyone in high spirits as we had had a brilliant day so far.

When we were about half a kilometre from the Robin's turn off bollard we met a National Parks Land Rover coming the other way. We waved and continued, then, as we came round the bend in the road and the bollard came into view, there it was - a Cheetah standing on the bollard, the dust from the vehicle that had just passed still settling!

I immediately slowed down and quietened the guests and pointed out what had me smiling so much. We rolled to a stop and the Cheetah jumped down, walked a few paces then stood and looked at us. By now we all had our cameras out and were snapping away, with the afternoon light just right. We then spent the next forty minutes with the beautiful cat and he gave us a brilliant show, as he strutted around the area scent-marking various bushes and trees before he lay down in full view fifteen metres from us. I would never have thought that a cat would have been so quick to jump onto the bollard after a vehicle had passed it seconds before. We left him lying there and continued on our way back to Camp Hwange.

There is always something rewarding about being able to leave an animal in a sighting and it not leaving you I feel. This is the reason that I, along with most of the guides in Zimbabwe I' sure, love our jobs - you never know what is around the next corner. I continue to always pay that area around the bollard a little more attention when driving past. You should too if you are ever lucky enough to be in Hwange.

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