Birding Without Borders

Day 200: Tracking Cheetahs

These elusive fast cats are tough to spot without some luck.

July 19, 2015: Mkhuze Game Reserve, South Africa — Ever since running into point-blank lions and leopards at Kruger earlier this week, our group has been joking about finding a cheetah—knowing full well that the chances of spotting a cheetah anywhere in South Africa are slim. When we arrived at Mkhuze yesterday, a sign in the visitor center said that, in fact, cheetahs do exist within the park, though the park’s total cheetah population is estimated (through radio tracking) at just nine individuals. Talk about a needle in a haystack!

The thing with needles, though, is that they can prick you when you least expect it. As we were driving along this morning, Martha suddenly yelled, “CAT!” Wayne backed up at double speed, and there, in the shade next to a termite mound, was a cheetah! Closer inspection revealed a family of four: A mother and three cubs. The mother had a satellite collar, so was one of the known cats from the visitor center’s log—which means that we were looking at roughly half the park’s total cheetah population. Whoa—I guess we have fantastic kitty karma this week!

I’ve been seeing some superlative animals lately. The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal, though the pronghorn (which I saw in Oregon in June) might give it a close race if the two lived on the same continent. I’ve recently seen the world’s largest land animal (the African elephant) and the world’s second-largest land animal (the white rhinoceros) to complement the blue whale I saw off California in May (the largest animal ever to have lived on this Earth). I also added a bird called the Red-billed Quelea yesterday, which is thought to be the world’s most abundant bird, though some believe the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (which I saw off Antarctica in January) could be more numerous. I would certainly be slacking if I couldn’t find the most common bird in the world this year—but to see the world’s biggest and fastest animals is a nice bonus.

New birds today: 14

Year list: 3638

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