‘There he was, my first chee­tah about to charge’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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