Our first real big cat encounter!
One of the big projects Sam and I have been working on this summer has been training and working with Loibor Siret’s Village Game Scouts. Currently, this is a group of 4, village-selected, men whose job is to monitor the village’s natural resources (water, wildlife, forests, etc.), as well as carry out monthly wildlife counts. Sam and I (but mostly Sam) have been heavily involved in determining survey protocols and training the game scouts to do proper surveys and to use GPS units (which provides them with both a powerful and a marketable skill). The past two days we have conducted our inaugural Loibor Siret wildlife count surveys. We went out in two cars – Laly and me and two game scouts, and Buddy and Sam and two game scouts.
The first day of counts went really well. We were able to identify some areas of confusion and correct them, but, overall, the guys did great! Laly and I saw greater biodiversity, but Sam and Buddy saw the coolest animal – a honeybadger right next to the road. Naturally, this started a contest between the cars for today – best carnivore wins (unless none were seen, then it was best diversity).
Our transect was a sort of loop-de-loo from Noloholo north, and then south through town, and then back up the National Park boundary. We were seeing different animals right and left – ostrich, impala, Grant’s gazelle, zebra, lesser kudu, dikdik, steenbok, hartebeest, slender mongoose (I suggest you to check these species out on Google!)…We were pretty confident we had best diversity in the bag. Then, in the distance, we saw a herd of eland (again, look it up).
We were looking through our binoculars, trying to count the eland, when, all of a sudden, they exploded outwards and scattered. Out of nowhere, a cheetah appeared in the middle of the herd and tried to chase one down! (A pretty optimistic cheetah, really, because eland are quite large) It was SO exciting – our first real big cat sighting!! We took off to try to track it down because the cheetah didn’t catch an eland and had stopped to lie down in the grass.
As we were negotiating our way across a plain and a large korongo, we got a call from Buddy, who told us that his car was watching two cheetahs eat a kill! 3 cheetahs in one day AND all of them were hunting at almost the same time – it was so lucky and incredible! We tried to find our cheetah, but soon gave up and drove to the site Buddy et al. were at to see their cheetahs, which turned out to be two males that had taken down an impala. By the time we got there, they were done eating and were just lounging around. They were also very calm, and the cars were able to be within about 6m of them. They even let Buddy et al. watch them eat from that distance for an hour.
There are really no words to describe how amazing all this was to see. Sam will tell you about how they came upon their cheetahs, and here are some pictures I got of them (Sam will put of some shots of them feeding). These encounters were even more special because they occurred outside of the National Park, where animals, especially carnivores, tend to be incredibly wary of people. Needless to say, it was hard to decide the winner of our competition – I think we all won, and this experience provides even more encouragement that there are carnivores in the area and that there are things we can do to help keep them here!
Easily one of the coolest things I have ever seen 🙂