“If the cheetah jumps on your back, he just wants to play. Don’t move, don’t run, or he’ll dig his claws into you. Just yell, ‘OFF!’ and he’ll jump right off. Remember the first rule of the bush – Don’t Run!”
Yes, this was really said to our small group of now anxious onlookers. We were in the bush of South Africa where conversations like this happen on a regular basis. Not many people get to say things about cheetahs jumping on your back and really mean it.
The cheetahs didn’t jump on our backs (thank goodness!), but man you should have heard their thunderous purr. Noel, myself, and our gracious host Frederik, went to the wild cat/cheetah sanctuary near Hluhluee (pronounced SHluh-SHlu-ee in Zulu). We knew we’d get to pet a cheetah but we didn’t know we’d have the chance to pet all the other wild cats in the sanctuary like the caracal or the serval, wild cats that you only see in zoos or on the discovery channel. Nor did we know that by the end of the day we’d be completely covered in cheetah saliva from a sandpaper tongue bath. And we would never have thought we’d have had our fingers sucked on – actually feeling the teeth that could tear flesh to shreds. Yeah, that was cool. And that purr!! You can’t imagine a purr louder and more booming. Of course these cheetahs had been raised in captivity and they were used to human interaction, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re huge, incredibly fast, have sharp non-retractable claws, and consume whole impalas on a regular basis. I’m just glad one didn’t jump on my back. I’m not sure I would have been able to stick to the first rule of the bush: don’t run.
We had the good fortune of seeing some wild cheetahs on one of our game drives – the kind whose mouth I would NOT stick my fingers in. However, try as we might we didn’t see any lions or any of the elusive leopards. One night, though, Frederik went out to the garage to fetch something from the fridge and “rroooaaarrrrr!” – the phantom leopard made himself known. Freddie didn’t run, he looked straight in the direction of the roar and stared until the leopard scampered off in fear. Well done, Freddie! Later that night we decided to leave the safety of the bush house* to look for some scorpions with an ultraviolet light (which for the record is AWESOME! They turn from black in regular light to neon green under UV).
This would be our second attempt at looking for scorpions, the first attempt didn’t turn out so well. A glass of wine on an empty stomach will do that. There we were, giggling our way around in the darkness, a glass of wine in one hand and a UV lamp in the other. Of course you have to venture into thicker bush to see the scorpions since they like to chill on trees. So we found ourselves faced with a dilemma: walk over/through/into a bush that was dripping wet from the recent rain fall, or try to maneuver our way between the rainy bush and the tree with a hook-like thorn. (I guess this thorn is called something like the stay-go thorn, since no matter which way you try to go, you will stay since it’s got a double hook). Freddie shoved his way through, Noel made it through… my turn…
It didn’t really hurt at first, I just noticed that something was pulling at my skin, like something had pinched it and was holding it as I tried to walk away. Then I realized that I hadn’t made it through. I had made the wrong choice of steering away from the wet leaves. So there I was gaping at the skin being pulled by this tree, not quite sure what to do…. and with one hand occupied by my now empty glass of wine, there wasn’t much I coulddo. I stood there. And waited. It wasn’t until the middle of Freddie’s speech on why I should have listened to him about the bushes that I started to feel the pain and discomfort of a thorn in my side. I shimmied and twisted a bit and the tree decided to let me go, on the condition that I would take the thorn as a souvenir. It doesn’t seem like I had much say in the matter, so now (almost 2 months later) you can still find that tree’s thorn in my side. At least that wasn’t the only souvenir I got that night, I found a porcupine’s quill stuck in a log. Finder’s keepers!
Despite all our looking, we didn’t see any scorpions that night, so we had to try again another night. Fast forward to the night of the leopard roar and another real conversation:
Frederik: “Okay guys, you can come down here!”
Me: “Are you sure?”
F: “Yeah, come on.”
M: “Did you find any scorpions?”
M: “Then what were you doing down there??”
F: (in a very matter of fact way) “Checking to make sure the leopard had gone.”
M: (sarcastically) “Oh. Is THAT all…?”
Normal people, people who come from small towns in the middle of corn-fielded Illinois don’t have nonchalant conversations about leopards and scorpions. They don’t go out looking for scorpions, and they certainly don’t go out in the dark where there’s no fence between a wild animal and yourself. Normal people aren’t faced with decisions about whether to stay and watch the breeding herd of elephants crossing the road ahead and behind them, listening to their destructive trunks pushing trees over for fun, or race off in the direction of the lion they just heard growl in the distance. (We chose the lion, but didn’t see him in the end). Girls who were raised around flat lands and corn fields don’t typically find themselves falling asleep with the sounds of hippos chatting and arguing just outside their bedroom windows. They probably wouldn’t jump out the side of a jeep to watch as a dung beetle gathers up a ball of rhino poo and proudly rolls it off into the distance. And, I can safely say that a girl like me, after spotting some wildlife nearby, wouldn’t normally say, “Nah, it was nothing. Just another giraffe”. I am one fortunate girl from flat, corn-fielded, small town, Illinois.
That is fact.
*This is the bush house belonging to the ever so gracious Stuyvesants who invited us to stay: http://bushdiaries.com/Stuyvesants/Stuyvesant_Bush_House.html