Thursday, 27 September 2007

I stroked a cheetah

‘You didn’t!’ said my friend Johann when I told him. ‘Don’t you know NEVER to get out of your car in a game reserve?!’*

But even I’m not enough of a daredevil to try to stroke an actual wild cheetah.

This cheetah, which was lying on his side enjoying the morning sun in his own private enclosure, allowed me to rub his head (the fur there is softly rough, if you can imagine such a thing), after which I got a bit cheeky and gave his tummy a good going-over (my cats love that kind of thing). The cheetah wriggled with pleasure (the earth moved – these cats are BIG), stretched his dinner-plate-sized paws and rolled over. ‘Um,’ said the game guide, ‘don’t do that. He thinks you want to play. And you don’t want to play with a fully grown cheetah.’

So I reined myself in and rubbed him under his chin instead (my cats love that too). And he purred. No, he PURRED! A cheetah’s purr is as big as a cheetah itself. It was one of the most wonderful sounds I’ve ever heard – a quietly roaring hum that I could feel in my feet.

That was the highlight of my stay in a private ‘game reserve’ a couple of hours outside of Cape Town. The rest was pretty interesting, too, even if the slightly creepy feeling of being in a zoo rather than a reserve was at times overwhelming. It’s big – 4 500 ha – but let’s face it, it’s not the Kruger Park. So the game – and there’s lots of it: springbok, eland, bontebok, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, zebra, hippo, etc – is pretty concentrated, and a ‘game drive’ is` really just an exercise in being transported from ‘where the rhinos are’ a few metres down the gravel track to ‘where the giraffe are’.

But the animals all look healthy, some of them are breeding quite happily, and for tourists it’s certainly a thrill to be exposed so easily to the Big Five plus all the other ‘littler’ lovelies without having to drive for hours through bushveld – without, sometimes, spotting a single noteworthy thing (as My Auntie Janet who, despite her creepy-crawly phobia, has been visiting Africa and its nature reserves for over 20 years, pointed out).

The lions depressed us. They – three females and a male – have their own enclosure, as it would be just too easy for them to go on a killing spree in the main reserve, and they also looked in good condition and happy (if lions lying lazily about doing nothing can be said to ‘look happy’, yet that is, in fact, how lions spend most of their time in their natural habitat), but the females have been sterilised, so there’s no chance they’ll breed. Our guide – a font of facts, rattled off at AK47 speed – told us that this is a Nature Conservation policy, but it brought home the fact that these creatures are only there for us to look at. A bit sad, really.

It’s telling, I suppose, that the notable moments had nothing to do with the big game roaming ‘free’ in the reserve. We were billeted in some old, beautifully renovated labourers’ cottages, a good distance from the main camp and everyone else, snuggled into a small koppie behind a gorgeous dam. Last evening, back from a ‘game drive’ (sorry, I can’t help putting that in inverts), we were visited by two female ostriches. You’d think all ostriches look the same, but they don’t. One of these, ‘the showgirl’, was all cutesy blinky curly-eyelashed pointy-toed standoffishly flirtation; the other, My Auntie Janet immediately nicknamed ‘Auntie Mona’, after a particularly disapproving relative – she had a nasty, judgmental gleam in her eye and she kept her beak open, a mouth-breather if ever there was one. The two of them sidled around outside our cottage, watching us watching them, for an hour or so. It was brilliant.

When I got back home today, things were pear-shaped. Johann had looked after The Wobbly Dog in my absence, and she was in the pink of health. The teenagers had, however, wreaked havoc in the house: among the damage, a mysteriously defrosted fridge/freezer and a smashed painting. Since my daughter – the alleged perpetrator of these deeds – had made good her escape to Cape Town in my absence, I have yet to find out how they happened.

It put me in mind of a teen reserve – 4 500 ha on which they can roam free, and we, their parents, can go on ‘game drives’ twice a day to look at them. Just look at them.

* ‘Find someone dressed in khaki, and stroke him instead,’ was Johann’s advice.

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meggie said...

Laughing. What a great post. i would never! stroke a cheetah!
But, on the other hand, I never thought I would stroke/pat a snake either.

angel said...

stroke someone wearing khaki eh... sounds promising!
i think i like the teen-preserve idea- details please!