A city offers comforts and annoyances of daily life. It also offers a lot of people and each one of them have stories. Being an urbaner, these stories have always fascinated me. But it was not until my visit to Tanzania, I realized that stories exist in the wild too and there’s just so much to learn from them. Safari in the African bush is not complete without following these stories for hours. Here is one that I brought back with me.
She was a bit far away and we could only spot her through binoculars. There she was. Sitting alert, being perfectly aware of her surroundings. She looked towards her right — we followed her gaze. Nothing. Then she looked left. We followed her gaze again. Wait! Whats that? One, two, three. And the fourth one is right between where she sat and the three tinier heads. There they were, five of them in one small panoramic gaze. The one closer was mama’s boy. He always stayed close. The other three it seemed were stronger, more independent.
They all seemed to be looking for something. Perhaps food. “Cheetahs have it the worse, you know..”, says Joseph, our Safari guide, “..they might be fast, but they are smaller than most antelopes, so its hard to find a suitable pray. And even if they find one, they are constantly at guard. Bigger predators like lions chase them away and a pack of hyenas always target cheetahs to steal their hard earned meal and sometimes they target the younger ones.” And of course, being a mama to four kids in the jungle was not easy. “This mama deserves a bravery award! Its hard enough to sustain oneself and she is nursing & protecting four perfectly healthy kids. She is one brave mama!”, exclaims Joseph. So apparently, what we were witnessing in front of us was a very rare phenomenon, and it was about to get even more interesting.
Mama started walking towards us and the kids got up and stayed close. Two of them kept wandering off and getting distracted on the way. But mama would stop and wait, turn around, look at them. As if with a silent little nudge, she made the kids run towards her and stay close. She made sure she looked around and was very cautious of every step they took. She came really close to where we were and found a tree right in front of us where she stopped. The kids wandered off a little ahead. But again, with her silent gaze, she nudged them to stay close. What was it, we wondered. What was she so cautious about? Once the kids were behind her, under the tree, she sat there facing forward. She was staring into the distance and this time we followed her gaze again. We spotted nothing with our bare eyes. I took the binoculars and adjusted the focus until I saw some movement about 200 meters away from where the family sat.
My first guess was that it was an antelope and the family was planning an ambush. But as I focussed my eyes a little more, I realized I was wrong! Not too far away from our duma family sat a tiny pack of lionesses – 3 of them. By now, Joseph started calling me the ‘eyes of the bush’. He said, “We are sticking right here. At this point, you never know what’s going to happen.” It was already about 2 hours since we saw all of the above happening. A lot of other safari cars came and left. It was now down to two. And the duma family. And the lionesses. From where we were, we couldn’t figure out the exact movement of the lionesses, but I guess mama duma could. She stayed low for almost about an hour while her kids moved around a little restlessly.
We had started to feel like we should get moving, but just then, the cheetah family decided to move. But not in the direction of the lionesses. They started walking towards us, the road. They were going to cross the dirt road and go on the other side. But not without being ultra cautious. The lionesses, I believe, were either too lazy to get up and go after the cheetah cubs, or the family succeeded in being very discreet. They crossed over and were now in a safe place. But the problem of hunger still loomed over. We followed this beautiful family a little over 5 hours, in which we saw them attempt two kills. But they didn’t succeed once. They moved on, continuing their search for food and survival. And so did we.
As we moved ahead leaving this story behind with a heavy heart, I secretly wished that this mama finds food for her little cubs and they survive, just like they did until now. In a movie, they probably would. But as Joseph said – “..C’est le vie! Its all about survival of the fittest. Thats the law and mama duma is very well aware of that.”