Portrait of a Cheetah

Yesterday’s visit to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve resulted in some spectacular photo opportunities. We visited a fenced area that is home to two 14-year-old cheetah twins, Duma and Letotse, who were orphaned when just a few months old. Their mother was killed by a farmer, and the cubs were raised in captivity.  Because of that, if you know how to approach them, you can get very close with your camera.  In fact, our guide showed us, you can scratch or rub behind their ears if you approach from behind the cheetahs.

From left: Darlene, Letotse, and Deborah

I found our time with the cheetahs magical but disorienting, because it violated such deeply held cautions about wild predators.  Lincoln Njiru, our guide who has worked at the reserve for five years, seemed to know what he was doing, and we followed his calm, careful rhythms as we approached the cheetahs.  “If they’re purring, it’s okay,” he said. And boy, did they purr.  It was like a motor, a thrumming that I was able to pick up in this video.

We also saw hyenas and rhinos at Mokolodi, but the cheetahs were the star attraction, in my mind.  It had just rained before we arrived at the reserve, so when we rubbed the back of Letotse’s head, as Lincoln instructed, his fur was wet and surprisingly stiff.

We entered the enclosure twice, once in the usual Land Rover-type vehicle.  Then Lincoln left the vehicle outside the cheetah area, and we re-entered on foot.  This took us past the hyena enclosure, down a dirt road.  As we strolled along, around the bend came a cheetah out for a stroll, too. It turned out to be the same one we’d met on the first time in.  He walked up to Lincoln, then sat in the middle of the road to hold court as each of us went up to stand next to him.

Letotse then found a new place to stretch himself out for more photos, and after a few minutes his twin, Duma, appeared, laying down behind him.

This gave me a chance to try for a low-angle shot in the late-afternoon light, and why not?  Two cheetahs were posing for portraits.  I didn’t need my zoom on the CoolPix camera.  My body was the zoom.  Our Bostwana host, Jim, took this photo of the photographer and his prey:

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