It was our 18th wedding anniversary, and we wanted to make it special and memorable. We planned to visit Düsternbrook Farm, a specious farm with colonial architecture, just 40 km away from Windhoek. It is a beautiful site famous for Cheetah feeding. Yes, we were going to see Cheetahs and Leopards being fed in their natural habitat. No cages, no moats; just open feeding to some active big cats! 😀
The drive was about to start at 3:30 pm. As it is rainy season going on in Windhoek, the weather was partially cloudy, giving us a chance to save our skin from scratching Sun. With frequent glimpses of Warthogs and Guinea Fowls on the roadside, we entered this beautiful farm.
The safari vehicle was ready. We seated in the reception for some time till all the fellow travelers assembled. Our driver, Ryan, was quite a knowledgeable person and he knew what to do when it comes to deal with the big cats. He told us some facts about Cheetahs and Leopards, and informed us to be safe ourselves.
Shortly, we all took seats in the vehicle one-by-one. Arun took co-driver’s seat. In the first row, I sat with a senior German couple. Nishant sat with his grandparents Small Aaji and Small Aaba behind us. And then there were a few rear-seat occupants. We all were ready with our hats, goggles, and most importantly, the cameras. Ryan came with a large tub containing pieces of game meat. He kept the tub near his seat and geared the vehicle.
He drove for a couple of minutes on very rough road. On our drive, we spotted a flock of Guinea Fowls flying overhead. I never knew, they could fly so high! 😮 Till that time, I had only spotted Guinea Fowls walking on the ground in flocks and hurriedly running to hide on our appearance. The area was covered with pebbles, dust, dry grass and Acacias. Some large Acacia trees were broken at boles; as if elephants had brought them down. All we could see around were various shades of beige and brown…
Soon, Ryan parked the vehicle at a place which was little open; without any vegetation. We didn’t had to wait for long. Two Cheetahs came around in few minutes. There were male siblings of nine years each. They came by the smell of meat in the tub. Ryan first started flinging the smaller pieces of meat towards them. With their keen eyesight and anticipation, they were jumping and catching them in the air directly. That was quite a sight to watch.
Since there were two male Cheetahs together, I was a bit surprised. I asked him, “Can multiple Cheetah males share the same terrain, unlike lions?”
He said while flinging yet another piece of meat, “Male Cheetahs can; but females can’t.”
The man sitting next to me said, “Just like you women, you see 😉 …”, winking his eyes at me. It was such an apt and timely joke! 😀
Ryan made the Cheetahs wander around the vehicle for a while. They were asking for more meat by making a sound like, Aawwe from their throats. Ryan told that Cheetahs have a large nasal cavity that helps to breathe speedily after an exhausting chase. Though they chase and knock down their preys to puncture their spinal cords like the other big cats do; they are not very ferocious. At last, Ryan flung a large pieces of meat to each one, which they fondly caught in the air and went under a shady tree. They started eating it peacefully. We stayed there for some time observing them and taking pictures.
By then, the clouds moved away as usual revealing the bright glare behind. Sun was terribly sharp even if it was inclined towards West. Air turned warmer than it was some time back. After eating wholeheartedly, the Cheetahs went their ways and we started towards Leopards. The safari vehicle was leaving behind a trail of tire-marks and brut white dust.
No sooner than we entered the Leopard terrain, Ryan announced that a Leopard was just in the close vicinity from us. At a few meters distance, we spotted him sitting camouflaged in the dry grass. His head was partially visible and his gaze was fixed towards us. Ryan parked the vehicle right under a tree and took the meat tub on the top of the vehicle. He accessed the lower branches and planted some meat pieces on the them. Then he got down, and reversed the vehicle to park at some distance from the tree. It made a whooshing noise and stopped. We all were sitting silent. Everything turned quiet except a distant call of a solitary bird and continual chirp of crickets. The Leopard was steadily observing us.
We waited for him to show some action. Of course, only the action of eating that meat on the tree. 😀 After some time he got up slowly and walked towards the tree. He halted at some distance from the tree. He wore beige-colored coat with black spots that looked like small flowers of three to five petals. The linear arrangement of spots on his neck was prominent. He stood there for a while twirling and hitting his tail on the ground; growling occasionally. A completely untamed big cat, in full sorts, just a few feet away! I could feel goosebumps rising on my neck 😥
Ryan made some sounds and spoke something in the local Damara language. The leopard continued growling. Throwing a final glance at us, he swiftly climbed the tree, reached the meat pieces, and grabbed them in his jaws. He then climbed down the tree gracefully and sat down to eat them. He was cracking the large bones easily while closing its eyes and tilting his head. That cracking sound was so fiercely during that quiet afternoon! We watched it for a while and started with our return journey. On our way back from the terrain, we revised the difference in the two big cats we just saw.
What is the Difference between Cheetah and Leopard?
Though cheetah and leopard look very similar apparently, there are different in many ways.
- Spots – The first apparent difference lies in their spots. Cheetahs have solid round dot-shaped spots on their skin whereas Leopards flaunt black flowers-like spots named rosettes.
- Body Shape– Cheetahs have very sleek body with long limbs and small head. They are tall. Leopards have bigger head and are bulkier than Cheetahs. Also, they have a typical cat-shaped body.
- Face – Cheetahs have two black facial lines that run down from inside of the eyes up to the mouth. They are known as Tear Lines. They act as reflectors when Cheetahs are hunting during a very bright day. Leopards on the other hand, don’t have such lines. and their faces resemble to domestic cat.
- Action – Cheetahs appeared to be very quick when it came to action as opposed to the lousy leopards.
- Forte – When it comes to hunting, Cheetahs exploit their speed, and leopards count on their strength.
- Jaws and Paws – Because of the larger nasal cavity, Cheetahs have smaller teeth and jaw than leopards, hence they cannot crack large bones. Leopards on the contrary are known to possess the highest strength to crack thick bones. Their jaw pressure is 700 PSI, which is even more than the lion’s 690PSI (PSI = Pounds per Sqr Inch). Leopards also have special paws that enable them to climb the trees. Cheetahs lack such paws.
- Lifestyle – Cheetahs are more social animals. Male Cheetahs can form groups and can be domesticated too; but Leopards are solitary animals. Also, Cheetahs are diurnal animals who prefer to wander in plains as opposed to the nocturnal Leopards who prefer thick bushes and trees.
We shortly arrived at the farm premises. The farm boasts a clean and large swimming pool. We enjoyed swimming for some time and prepared ourselves to return.
The Sun was setting down with full brightness. Evening breeze carried the aroma of wet soil from long away. We boarded our car and started return journey on the rough road. Warthogs were running back to their warrens flaunting their funny antenna-like erect tails. 😀 Oryxes and Impalas were walking in herds into the thicker vegetation. Weaver birds had assembled on the trees. A hare crossed our way rapidly. Soon we arrived at the main road and with yet another gem of experience on mind, we headed towards Windhoek.