‘There he was, my first cheetah about to charge’
12ft, and can be very old. Cheetahs especially use them to study the landscape for potential prey, but this time we were the observers.
We spread our tablecloth on the top and were unpacking our sandwiches and thermos of tea, when to my horror I saw ants appear from everywhere and crawl over everything. I looked at my father, who grinned, and I watched in awe as he picked up a sandwich covered in ants, bit and munched happily. “Adds to the flavour – you’ll see,” and I guess they did.
Then he pointed and I lifted the binoculars hanging around my neck. There he was – in a large stretch of dry grass – my first cheetah about to make his charge. I zoomed in and watched open-mouthed as he ran, his action indescribably elegant, almost floating above the ground alongside his antelope target, whirling and twisting as he shadowed it, his long, whitetipped tail swinging to balance him as he made sharp turns. The antelope managed to escape, but that day I saw for the first time a cheetah at full speed hunting, and the thrill of it engulfed me. I had missed the stalk, but I felt confident there would be other opportunities.
To help me to really get the feel of the wild animals, Papi decided that we should drive into the national park itself, situated a little way on the other side of the river from our camp. It was the size of a small country and here, by Her Royal Highness Princess of Michael of Kent, is published by Bradt Guides (bradtguides. com) at £20. To order your copy for £16.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph. co.uk. Papi promised me, I would be able to see the best of the local wildlife. We left at daybreak for our game drive there. As we drove down the escarpment towards the river, patches of fog drifted over the water; the sun was just rising, a beautiful morning as we headed for the pontoon bridge.
Arriving at the river bank I recoiled at the sight of the many crocodiles, huge slugs the colour of the mud they lay in, eyes almost closed, malevolent. We drove over the bridge in the general direction of Chitengo, the park headquarters, then up the mountain road to Bue Maria, where we turned off to the right and into the park.
Already at the entry gate I was impressed by the smart way the formalities were conducted and the clear interest in conservation there. We drove in and stopped almost at once. Before us lay a wide, wide valley; on the horizon white clouds were lit by the sun, and all around us was forest – not more than three miles from the park entrance.
We drove a further five or six miles to the main camp where we checked into our bungalows. As Papi was not familiar with the roads in the park, we decided to take a guide. We had hardly left the campsite when we saw game to the right and left of the road, mainly wildebeest, zebras and impalas, but also small gazelles. To my surprise, the impalas were reasonably tame and we were able to approach quite close.
Papi said the reason was that inside the park they knew they were safe from hunters and I would be astonished how close we would be able to get to other animals as well. Wherever we looked there were enormous herds of every kind around us and the steppes were teeming with wildlife – an extraordinary sight to my novice eyes. But Papi said we had actually not seen much as yet.
“Look,” he said suddenly, and there stood my first buffalo. “Now