The Wild Orphans at Nambiti

The wild orphans of Nambiti Private Game Reserve

Photo by Siobhan Gunning

The last time I visited Nambiti Hills Private Game Lodge, I made plans to visit the Le Sueur Cheetah Project at the end of my stay. The head game guide at Nambiti Hills, Brett Hoy, kindly gave me a lift to the home of the founders of the project, Des and Elizke. He was in a hurry as he had to get back to the lodge to attend to other guests. I think he momentarily mistook his Land Rover for a Ferrari as we spend around s-bends and flew over humps on the precarious and rather narrow dirt track that leads from the lodge to the main gate. Admittedly I am the world’s worst passenger following a head-on collision and then a rolled-car accident seven weeks afterwards, albeit it years’ ago. Brett’s driving skills were superb and we arrived bang on the appointed time.
“I don’t want to be late, especially as Des is doing us a favour.”
It turned out that this was not the normal scheduled visiting time, which meant I was the only guest. Which made the occasion even more special for me.

Vega at Nambiti Private Game ReserveI was here to meet up with all the orphans and the abandoned ones. Zulu, the meerkat, who was tucked into Des’s arms when he came out to greet us. Two older cheetah cubs, Sky and Storm, who had been abandoned by their mother on the reserve and had been rescued from imminent and fatal damage by predators (mainly lion and hyena). Vega, the young and very playful leopard who had been found trying to fend for himself in the Berg. Four little cheetah cubs, the progeny of Savannah and Mikka of the Le Sueur Cheetah Breeding Project. And two very curious and friendly serval cats who clearly adore Des.

It was a great privilege to be able to spend time with these magnificent creatures. The two older cheetahs were nibbling on chicken bits in between playing and lounging around when I entered their enclosure. I had in fact spotted them the day before. As I was entering the reserve, Des was heading out across the road to the main cheetah enclosure and a separate stretch of open land. The cheetahs were sitting upright in the Land Rover on either site of Des. They were off to take a walk (or run) in the wild and learn how to hunt. If I recall correctly, Des’s dog, Sailor, was with them. Not a conventional family, but a family nonetheless.

Vega at Nambiti Private Game Reserve

Next I went with Des and Brett to visit the young leopard, Vega. He had grown to 25 kg and was a boisterous young fellow, throwing himself at the two guys, and leaping onto tree trunks. His fur was a lot smoother than that of the neighbouring cheetahs. Once he’s older, there’s a strong chance that he will be released back into the wild. Leopards tend to be loners, although that’s hard to believe when you see how social he is now.

Serval at Nambiti Private Game Reserve

Photo by Siobhan Gunning

The next stop was the enclosure with the four young cheetahs and the two serval cats. They were all curious, playful and loving. What was particularly extraordinary was to witness their friendship with the meerkat. Whilst Zuu the meerkat kept safely outside the enclosure, he delighted in taunting the four cheetahs. He kept furrowing in the ground immediately outside the mesh fence and taking a little swipe at the cheetahs. It was all in loving jest and he seemed unaware of his tiny dimensions in comparison with that of the fast-growing cats. They all made up an odd band of brothers and sisters. Best of mates now but I suspect that will all change as primal instincts take over in time.

Cheetah cubs and Brett at Nambiti Private Game ReserveOne of the little cheetahs, Yakira, is very narrow in shape. Des thinks she may have been accidentally crushed by her mother. It resulted in temporary paralysis and respiratory problems. Whilst she may never be as strong as her siblings, she is still full of the joys of life and will probably end by being the main ambassador of the project. She is the one most likely to be taken outside of the reserve to meet schoolkids and other members of the public in an attempt to spread the word about the endangerment of cheetahs the need for well-monitored breeding. Which means Yakira’s earlier disability may turn out to be her greatest strength in the mission to ensure the future of cheetahs on this planet.

Whether you get to meet this wonderful group of cats or not (and I hope you do), may I urge you to go onto the Le Sueur Cheetah Project website and find a way to help – whether it is through a donation or simply by spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Or all five. I thank you in advance.Cheetah cubs at Nambiti

Go to www.cheetahinteraction.com for more information about the project. Or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Le-Sueur-Cheetah-Project/147382865336974

- Siobhan Gunning, writer and wildlife enthusiast