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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
Tracking wild cheetah, observing hunting behaviour and relocating brown hyena at Zingela
“Sitting at a hide on Sunday, we saw a cheetah coming to drink. It had been a good day already, we saw gemsbok and warthog, but this was just brilliant. We had heard the birds alarming for about fifteen minutes when the cheetah finally arrived. He was a bit nervous, so we tried to be even quieter so we wouldn’t chase him off. In the end, he stayed for five minutes, drinking and looking around nervously all the time. When he had finished drinking, he walked straight towards the hide because apparently, he had heard us. I was standing at the window, so he looked straight at me from a distance of a metre, then lost interest and walked off again. It was so exciting to be so close to an uncollared cheetah! Ten minutes after he had left, a Brown Hyena came to take a bath in the waterhole. Apparently, it had a lot of fun, as it was splashing water around with the tail and taking a sip every now and then.”
“On my very first day at Zingela, I had one of my best cheetah sightings. I was really excited because we were about to go tracking for the first time. After we had located Rebecca with the telemetry, we jumped off the Landrover to see if we could find her on foot. And we did! She had just hunted down a young Impala and was feasting on it, so she didn’t even really notice us.
We could sit with her for almost half an hour when she stopped eating to laze around for a bit. It was amazing and really intense to see a wild cheetah from a short distance like this.”
“At Hanchi and Zingela there is a breeding project for roan and sable antelopes. They stay inside a big enclosure to keep them safe from predators, particularly the young. But one day we found the tracks of a brown hyena inside the roan camp. We needed to trap the animal and move it onto the larger reserve. One evening, we had success! We all drove to the roan camp to see what happened: The hyena was being darted and fell asleep quickly, so we could load her onto the Landrover and drive her to the Plains. We were there to watch her waking up: Still really drowsy at first, but then waking up quickly, the hyena walked out of sight. We tracked her many times afterwards and really enjoyed seeing the animal we had darted before.”
“During one of our many afternoon tracking sessions, we had found the area where Rebecca the cheetah was lying up, so we jumped down from the Landrover and went into the bush on foot. We found her with a recently killed young kudu, and although she was a little wary of us at first she quickly relaxed, and as she ate we slowly moved closer. Eventually, we were sitting no more than three metres from her as she tucked in – not a bad cheetah ‘sighting’!”