Back in the year dot when I was growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, I went to a primary school that was a relatively short walk from my home. It was a small and friendly school with about 10 or so classrooms. Next to it was a house with a high hedge and big wooden gates. On the gates, written in white paint, were the words “Hoot 2 times”. This was presumably to alert the manservant of the household to come and let you in. And to give him time to do whatever was necessary to ensure that the cheetah that lived there didn’t escape into the suburbs.
Yes, cheetah! I’m not sure if there were one or two cheetahs there – this was a long time ago! – but I remember finding this all very exciting whilst I day-dreamt in a classroom nearby or played “tip” with friends in the playground, often running up to the hedge to see if I could spot the great spotted creature.
I had fantasies of this magnificent beast one day breaking free and chasing us all in the playground. I, of course, would be heroic, save the others from being mauled and get attacked myself. My bloodied image would feature on the front page of the East African Standard and, naturally, eventually all the scars would heal and I’d soon be back to my normal beautiful (ha!) self.
Well, it never happened but next week (and not without some trepidation) I will be coming up close and personal to some cheetahs at Nambiti Private Game Reserve. Two young brother cheetahs have had the rule of the reserve for some time now and they are about to be joined by others. Several cheetah are in the process of being rehabilitated and I will be meeting up with the team responsible for that.
There is always a degree of controversy over the concept of rehabilitating an animal into the wild and debate over how well a wild animal that has connected with humans on any level can adapt to a harsh and predatory lifestyle. The most famous rehabilitators were George and Joy Adamson who wrote Born Free about Elsa, the orphaned lioness they rescued, reared and eventually released back into the wild. I actually have a signed copy of their book but was too young and shy at the time to ask them any significant questions about reintroducing a ‘domesticated’ animal to the wild. It will be interesting to see how the thinking and methods have changed and advanced over the years.
I look forward to hearing the views of my hosts, Kevin (game ranger) and Ross (game guide) of Nambiti Hills Private Game Lodge. Equally, I look forward to the great luxury of staying at Nambiti Hills! The suites are so comfortable and private, each with verandahs overlooking the game reserve, that it is tempting to just hole up there and commune with nature in solitary fashion. Then again, the open-plan lounge filled with wonderful coffee-table books on African wildlife and interiors is a great place to while away many hours with an expansive view of the reserve. All to the distinctive smells and sounds of the wilderness. With maybe a gin and tonic or large glass of excellent South African wine nearby. Ah, bliss!