Tanzania Travel Diary - p 6

Cheetah cub12 April 2008
    In darkness we rise and walk to the main lodge for coffee.  A lion roars in the distance; the stars seem so close you could almost touch them.  Scorpius, whose stars ride the horizon at home, sits high in the sky here at 3 S latitude.
    On the plains Steven prepares a breakfast of millet porridge called uji, which isn't bad once you add brown sugar and peanut butter and bananas.
    Our first good sighting is a mother cheetah with one cub, about three months old.  Mom makes one try at a Thompson's Gazelle, but slips at the last second.  The prey escapes.
    Afterwards the cub rolls around on Mom and then relaxes in the weeds.  He seems to be showing us what a fierce predator he will be in about a year, but actually I believe he was yawning, as cats are prone to do.

Mother cheetah and 4 cubsThen, half a hour later,  we locate what has everyone in the area talking.  Another mother cheetah has given birth to six cubs, twice the normal three, and somehow managed to raise all of them to the age of four months.  The guides are amazed.  None has ever seen this feat before.
    Like any kittens, the cubs play and romp, staying close to Mom.  Steven reckons that she must make a kill every day, Thompson's or better yet the larger Grant's Gazelle, to feed her hungry brood.
    It will only get more difficult.  In about 8 months the cubs will be able to takes hares and small game, but another year will pass before they can hunt and be independent of Mom.

As we watch the cheetah clan move across the plains, a small herd of young Thompson's Gazelles spots them.  Instead of dashing out of sight, they approach the cheetahs to within 200 yards, then stand watching with keen interest.  It seems the height of insanity to tempt fate like this.  But Steven says that the mother cheetah will almost never launch a run against an alert, upright gazelle.  The gazelles cannot outrun the cheetah, but will twist and dart, evading her until she quickly tires.  Life on the edge.

White-capped Shrikes13 April 2008
    Just another beautiful dawn as we motor through the woodlands.  The cacophony of hundreds of doves calling, mainly Ring-necked Doves but lots of Mourning and also Laughing Doves as well, merges into one continuous drone.  The Ring-necked Dove's three-note call exhorts us to "Work harder, work harder!"  On and on, endlessly.
    As with starlings, shrikes abound here in Africa.  Nine different species are found in this part of Tanzania, none more common or tame than the White-capped Shrike.  What better way to warm up after a cool night than to perch together on a sunny branch?

Mother Lion

Everyone makes a stop near Lake Ndutu to see the pride of lions that hangs out in an open, sandy stretch of land there.  The pride has a handsome male and four young cubs who play as kittens do, especially in the cool of the evening.  The last rays of a setting sun lit up their mother.  But right now lions are not my favorite animal.  We learned today that lions had attacked two young male cheetahs this morning, killing one and fatally wounding the other.  Lions are cheetahs' mortal enemies, killing a predator they see as competition.  I know there's no right or wrong, good or bad, in the animal world, but still it seems cold.







Travel Diary            next page>