Unique angles for photography with the cheetah at Tiger Canyon. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, African cheetahs are estimated to number between 6,517 and 7,000 in the wild today. Although that is nearly double the wild tiger population, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is Africa’s most endangered felid and listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.
A group of sub-adult cubs. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
At Tiger Canyon, if you are lucky, you get the opportunity to walk with wild cheetah. I initially felt this was wrong, but after experiencing it, I am more than comfortable that it is a profound experience which has no impact on the cats whatsoever. In a previous article, we discussed “Responsible Tourism’ and how it was unethical to pet cubs or walk with lions. This is a vastly different scenario. Why? Well, a couple of reasons. Cheetahs are not like other big cats, being rather more timid in nature. Adult humans are not suitable prey size for a cheetah – although children are entirely a different matter. These animals are either born wild or are rewilded animals and live a completely wild life. They are, however, habituated to human presence, much as the cheetah in the Masai Mara are (climbing on game drive vehicles to use as lookout points).
Mother and cub. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
When we located a cheetah after about two hours of determined effort, we stopped a respectful distance from the animal, who was ‘lolling’ on the edge of the road. Our guide Adi was very clear that everything depended on the mood of the animal. We were lucky, and “Mashai” was in a very chilled mood. We exited the vehicle and slowly approached the big cat. Whilst he was very aware of our presence, his attention was trained on some animals on the horizon (way beyond his reach). He rolled on his back repeatedly, much as a domestic cat would do. Eventually he lazily got up and sauntered off across the plain, with us in tow. Touching the animals is strictly off limits – you simply have the privilege of walking with a wild cheetah. It is a unique and humbling experience – with you initially being very much aware that this is a completely wild predator. The entire process is conducted with respect and on the animal’s terms. Had the animal not been in an obliging mood, I have no doubt that the walk would have been called off. Walking with the cheetah is an unforgettable treat, one which also provides photographers the opportunity to get eye-level and low-level shots more easily.
The cheetah population at Tiger Canyon are thriving! © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
Later, we came across Mara’s four subadult cubs who were awaiting their mother’s return. Once again, the entire encounter was driven by the animals’ comfort – this time the distance between us and them was much larger, as the youngsters are not yet as confident as the larger male earlier in the day. It was here that we met Nick Kleer, well-known for his amazing shots and videos of these animals. Nick has an exceptional bond with the cheetahs. Later that afternoon, when I asked about his most profound experience, he replied that Shashe introducing her cubs to him was right up there… (see link below).
Termite mound vantage point… © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
After an absence of over a century, free-roaming cheetahs have returned to the Free State – one of their original habitats. Not only have they returned, but they are thriving and breeding – to the extent that Tiger Canyon has historically been able to provide wild-raised cheetahs for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) ongoing efforts to repopulate other reserves in Southern Africa! They are a member of the EWT’s Metapopulation Project, enabling these relocations to other reserves within the Metapopulation in a bid to help increase the cheetah numbers and keep the genetics clean. So beyond proving that captive born tigers (the initial tigers on the reserve) can be re-wilded and that tigers can adapt to African conditions and prey species, Tiger Canyon is also contributing to saving one of our iconic indigenous cats – the cheetah.
A flock of blue cranes at Tiger Canyon. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
There are only approximately 25,000 blue cranes remaining in the world today. These birds are endemic to southern Africa, with the vast majority (they say more than 99%) of them living within South Africa. Also known as the Stanley crane and the paradise crane, this bird is the national bird of South Africa. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, having declined in numbers due to habitat loss (urbanisation and human population growth), poisoning (by farmers in response to the Blue Crane’s propensity for foraging in agricultural fields) and power-line collisions. They were widespread and common in the Free State during the 1970s and early 1980s but have since decreased significantly in numbers in that province. So it was with great delight that I saw numerous blue cranes on the Tiger Canyon property! Another example of what happens when the land is rehabilitated, and biodiversity restored.
As the heat leaves the day, there is a great calm that settles on the lodge. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
Tiger Canyon is 6 ½ hours from Johannesburg by road The closest commercial airport is Bram Fischer International airport in Bloemfontein – which would give you a 2 ½ hour drive from the airport. There is also a tar runway at Gariep – a 45 minute drive away from Tiger Canyon.
The views are spectacular and the communal lounge warm and inviting… © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
The rooms are wonderful, the food is delicious and the experience is truly a one-in-a-lifetime event.
Dramatic landscapes abound at Tiger Canyon… © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
Tiger Canyon is a unique property, with a great team of people doing an inordinately large amount of good for conservation, both local and international. From a personal perspective, I would not hesitate to recommend that you take the time to visit this little piece of paradise – you won’t be disappointed!!
A sunset view second-to-none, overlooking the Vanderkloof Dam (previously the PK le Roux Dam) – the second-largest dam in South Africa, having the highest dam wall in the country at 108 metres. © Lorna Drew, Tiger Canyon.
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team
Cell: +27 71 607 9279
FB: Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve.
Nick Kleer Sashe Cub Introduction: