On Wednesday we spent a good part of the day in the air…..looking for lions and cheetahs!!
The lions are part of a reintroduction project from 2018 where 24 lions were moved into Zambeze Delta Safari. They have done well and now, 5 years later, there are over 80 lions in the area.
Michael and I climbed into the back seat of a tiny helicopter, with the front occupied by our pilot, Mark Haldane, and the “lion whisperer” Willem Briers-Louw. Willem had looked at the satellite data early that morning and had a pretty good idea of where we would find the pride.
Mark lifted off and, after a few minutes of hovering to ensure the balance of the aircraft, he took off skimming across the landing strip and heading for the trees. That initial forward thrust is THE most exciting part of the trip!!
We skimmed across the trees…..
As we neared the map coordinates for the pride, Mark slowed the copter and Willem started working with the antenna that would help him find the exact area…..
When Mark and Willem spied a Warthog kill, they knew that the lions were VERY close.
Then there was the cry….”THERE THEY ARE!!!”…..
It was a magical experience to watch the lionesses move around in their natural habitat, with the cubs close by their sides!!
The cubs were so cute, all covered in mud…..
WOW….what a morning!!
But that wasn’t the end of the fun!!
In the afternoon, we were in the air again, this time with Mark at the controls and Tamar Kendon on the tracking antenna…..
Searching for the cheetahs was much harder than the lions because they are more solitary cats and don’t spend time in large groups. Thus we were looking for AN individual rather than a big group!!
Also, the cheetahs tend to stay under the tree canopy so you have to “encourage” them to show themselves. Unfortunately, photographing them was almost impossible as they didn’t stay in the clearing for very long! And, Mark and Tamar didn’t want to stress them out so we didn’t hover and circle the way that we did for the lions.
Our first sighting was a Mama with two cubs. We saw one of the cubs but the other one never came out.
We headed for the next set of coordinates (about 13 kilometers away) and this time I was the one to cry “There She IS”. It was thrilling to see this gorgeous female gliding thru the long grass and that view is forever etched in my memory.
Our final conquest was to find a big male. We again traveled for about 15 minutes before sighting the big guy. By this stage, I had given up on trying to photograph the cats, but Michael suggested that I try one more time. Unfortunately, we were starting to move away from the cat so I just pointed the phone in the general direction and clicked away.
I GOT him, but just barely…..
Sighting the lions and cheetahs was one of the main purposes of this trip so it was great to do both in one day. It is very encouraging to know that both of these re-introductions are doing so well!
As for the helicopter flights…..they were exciting. All of the doors were off and this was my view as we hovered….
Also, with the doors off, there was lots of wind and it was pretty chilly, and my new hairdo was interesting…..
but…..it was WELL worth it!!
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