Of Love and Lions

I was on my first date.

With my first boyfriend, (and still the man I am in a relationship and SO in love with today.)

Enslin is a field guide from South Africa.

We met at the reserve we both worked on.

So for our first date, I accompanied him on a game drive for the morning.

Amber rays of the sun

It had been a glorious morning. The rising sun giving off rays of deep amber light across the Karoo.

We took the guests to search for the rare Black Rhinos. And along the way, we each gave interesting stories and facts on the wild world around us.

Gold morning

We tracked the rhinos for awhile, but there was nothing to be found. So instead, we decided to look for lions. And this proved a better call.

We found four lions lounging in the sun together, overlooking a dry river bed.

It was simply a stunning morning, the sun was warm and golden in a sapphire sky. The grass, bushes, and flowers were covered in sparkling dewdrops, as if the stars had descended from the heavens.

Cheery birdsong filled the slightly cool, crisp air.

And they guests all enjoyed the magnificent scene before us.

One of the female lionesses arose after awhile, stretched and yawned, and padded slowly towards one of the big male lions.
She came up to him, they both looked each other in the eyes for a moment, and then touched noses.
The female rubbed her head across the male’s face in a kind gesture.

And then she brushed passed him and began to make her way towards the riverbed with a flick of her tail.

Almost instantly the male arose, and padded after her quickly, and gently took her tail in his mouth. As if he did not want to lose her, and they walked off together like this, perhaps this was the equivalent of lions holding hands?
I found it to be a very beautiful moment. And it made me consider love in human form…

Love may be highly unpredictable.
It may be one of the most incredibly beautiful and mysterious things in the world.

But one thing that it is not, is painful.
Love is not abusive.
Love is not cruel. 
Shaming another person and saying ‘it’s out of love,’ is not love.
Hurting another person and ‘calling it love,’ is not love.
Love will endure all things. But it is not meant to used. 
It cannot be used. 

True love will never be the cause of suffering. It will remain the stronghold THROUGH all suffering.
Love is not hardship. 
But it will ALWAYS overcome hardship. 
When I observed this male and female lion, as they paused a moment, and stared into each other’s eyes. And then touching noses, I was reminded of what love is…eternal and enduring.
It happens in single and often unexpected moment.
And in its purity, for love is certainly pure, love never fails. 

Always a Student

Practicing his mother’s stalk

One beautiful, gold morning, I found all four cubs practicing the new skills their mother had been teaching them. Their mother lay nearby, observing them proudly. They were so focused and serious about their practice.

The cubs were trying out over exaggerated stalking poses on each other. And they would be so clumsy, tripping over themselves, crossing the wrong paws which made them stumble.

The stalk

And of course, as soon as one made a mistake, the other three would quickly take advantage and pounce! All the cubs would squeal and make little sounds of protest, or challenging squeaks of courage.

Streaking through the dew enveloped grass like spotted comets.

They were stumbling and rolling about. Awkwardly throwing themselves at trees and climbing to a point which really gave them no advantage at all. But it gave the idea of power.

The cubs were so interested in practicing, that they did not even notice my presence for a long time. But as soon as they did, they saw an even more exciting opportunity to practice!

They all four ran up to me, and tried to puff themselves up and walk in a “threatening” posture just like their mother showed them.


All the while, their mother lay close by, relaxing in the sun, her eyes narrow slits of pleasure. She knew she had done her job well.

The cubs all came up to me, one even stood on my foot on accident. And they starred up at me with their deep, amber eyes. Their sweet little faces all alight with energy and playfulness. After a time, three of them went back to playing amongst themselves.
But one of them, the same one that always took an interest in me, laid down where he was at my feet.
And began washing himself.


Finally as the morning sun rose higher, and the earth began to heat up, the mother cheetah called her cubs. And they all five disappeared into the cool shadows of a nearby riverbed.
These moments were so special to me, and I also found it inspiring.
Even when cheetah cubs grow up, they never stop learning. 
Wildlife cannot foresee the challenges ahead, they learn to read the natural signs of the world around them. They never stop learning.
Most adult cheetahs know their prey, and they know their territory.
But when seasons change, or prey patterns change, the cheetah will watch and learn.
A consistent student to the world.

None of us should ever be an expert. Ever.
You should never stop learning.
Or being a student.

And observing these cubs learning and putting to practice what they had already learned, was a good reminder of what we should all strive to be…students.

There are far to many experts in the world. There are so few teachers. And even fewer students.

Never stop striving to learn. There is NEVER a point in your life that you are not able to learn something new.

And when you do learn something, it is never right to withhold information from others simply so seem “better”.

Don’t hold back others in order to remain an expert.

Any true expert should dedicate their expertise in teaching others.

Knowledge is beautiful. And to be able to give knowledge by teaching is an honor.

Like a mother cheetah, we should feel great pride when those we have taught move forward in success.

And like the cheetah cubs, we should jump on any opportunity we can to learn something new.
I must say, that the greatest experts on the planet that I know, are all wild animals.

Mother cheetah with cub copying her every move

The Great Hunt

Catja is a very special cheetah to me…

Catja

A first time mother of four male cubs, and they were very energetic, and confident little boys.

I absolutely loved monitoring this fantastic family of wild felines every day!

Catja really had her work cut out for her!

Though she was a first time mom, she showed superb maternal instincts, being highly protective of the cubs, and an amazing consistency in hunting and providing food for them.

Catja worked tirelessly day in and day out, raising those little cubs into the strong males they are today.

There had been a severe drought in the area I was working. And this, coupled with the fact that Catja was so efficient in making kills, drastically brought down the numbers in her preferred prey species, blesbok.

Therefore, Catja had to resort to hunting smaller, and quicker game.

This meant she had to start hunting springbok, impala and other small game.

But with four growing boys, a single springbok antelope is not enough to suffice such hungry mouths. 

Catja began working twice as hard, so efficient and clever she was, she would often kill two springbok a day. She was a phenomenally proficient huntress.

But as time went on, the springbok herds became even more vigilant and learned her ambush methods, and so her kill streak began to dwindle. 

Then came the hardest time, Catja began missing her prey.

She still managed to kill small animals like steenbok and hares, but this was barely enough to sustain herself and four cubs.

My job was the daily monitoring of the cheetahs on the reserve.

So it was of great interest observing how this particular mother cheetah had been raising her young, and the struggles they faced, and how she continued to adapt to overcome the turmoils…

Catja resting in the shade with cubs

I found Catja and her cubs, they needed food desperately. And Catja was entirely exhausted. The evening was gray and overcast. The world seemed entirely quite. Catja starred into my eyes, her eyes like deep pools of amber. They always seemed to much darker than the other cheetahs.I knew already what she had been going through, the struggles, the hardships. She was exhausted. But her eyes told me, she was confident. Her eyes told me, victory was certain. I believed her…

I was on foot the next morning.

It had been hard to watch Catja over the previous days, she was exhausted. And she was hungry.
And so were the cubs, who were a constant worry for her.

They NEEDED food.

I walked about, looking for tracks and signs.

I knew Catja was going to be in the area.

I walked through a vast scrubland, shrouded in mist.

I looked upon a ridge to the north, the herd of springbok which Catja had been sticking to over the last several days, were grazing along the hill. And in amongst them were the quick and clever impalas, another species of antelope. I knew this would make matters even more difficult for the huntress. 
I knew Catja was around. She had to be.

I kept going along quietly and slowly, looking for the familiar spotted camouflage of the cheetah pelts.

Then, I saw a little ways ahead of me, Catja’s four cubs.

They were sitting under a bush together, watching the herd on the hill intently. 

The cheetahs here are accustomed to seeing me on foot or in my vehicle every day, so they had little interest in me.

One of Catja’s cubs coming up to investigate me

I did not see Catja. I knew she would be hunting.

So I got down low where I was, in a bush near the cubs, not wanting to disturb the scene.

And this way I could watch the impending action that was to come. I just knew Catja was hunting.

All eyes were on the herd, the fog from the early morning was lifting, Catja would come out eventually. She had to.

Maybe, this would be her day.

We seemed to be sitting there forever…suddenly, one of the cubs made a little squealing murmur of excitement, they all sat up straight, and I saw the reason why…

Ahead of us on the ridge, the impalas started alarm calling, and they began to scatter, the springbok scattered with them, all in aflurry of panic.

And then there was the cheetah.

Catja sprang out from the underbrush where she had been hiding, but I thought, it’s too late surely, the herd is so far ahead now, but then I saw her target…

One of the springbok had been further apart from the rest of the herd, but now was it was too late for it to react.

At that moment the cheetah’s speed increased to a full on high speed sprint that only a cheetah is capable of, and I witnessed then the most beautiful chase I have ever seen.

Sprinting between 75-80mph (120km/hr), to the point all four paws would in midair as she sprinted fully stretched. Catja was incredible!!

I never would have thought I would have the privilege to witness such speed except in documentaries, yet here it was happening before my very eyes.

Over the ridge they went, and the cloud dust went up, followed by the sound of the kill.
We knew Catja had done it. She was victorious.

Silence reigned over the world.

The cubs were staring ahead, wriggling with excitement. They looked at me, they looked at each other, and looked to where their mother had gone down.

Then her chirping calls echoed across the silent Karoo earth.

Catja calling her cubs
Catja calling her cubs

The cubs sprang forward, sprinting towards the sound, chirping like excited birds in an excited response.

Catja with a kill, cubs in background

I followed behind and found them all together, the cubs digging into the springbok, practising their strangle holds on the carcass, while the mother lay panting and exhausted in the shade from all her momentous effort.

I was overwhelmed by the wonder of this experience, and so inspired by Catja’s determination and strength.

It was Catja’s devotion and and willingness to get through and overcome any obstacle, that ensured her cubs’ survival. Now as they are entering adulthood, all four brothers follow in their mother’s footsteps in confidence, energy, and ability. They’ve made their first kill. And I foresee these once tiny babies to become as highly efficient and gifted as their mother Catja was.

Catja with a a kill, and one of her cubs copying her

Catja had been at a point of hunger and exhaustion. 
A point where the heaviness of life’s hardships seemed suffocating.

I’m sure most can relate to this feeling.

This cheetah had been in a state of haggard weariness.
Yet, she did not stop. 

Giving up never crossed her mind. She was focused. 
Focused on the success that was certain.

This cheetah would never stop as long as her heart was beating, and as long as our hearts are beating, whatever the circumstances, we should follow her example…

Breathe

Jasmin, taking a moment to breathe.

I had a most remarkable moment with this particular cheetah one morning…It had been a cool morning. I had been up before the sun. And after finishing up my other monitoring duties, I was on my way to check on a cheetah named Jasmin.


Jasmin was a unique individual. She had a special and quirky way of doing things. And she enjoyed her solitude. She was probably one of the most difficult to track every day, because she would hunt by walking in large circles. I had to wonder if she had trouble with her sight at times. Because she definitely did not act the same as the other cheetahs on the reserve. But it clearly was not enough to keep Jasmin from making kills. She was definitely capable of that.She also would often hide inside of thick bushes. Not underneath them like most cheetahs.

No, Jasmin would climb on top of large bushes, and crawl down inside of them. Becoming completely concealed, unless she peaked out from the top. I spent many frustrating hours searching for her at times, when I was getting to know her. But once I came to know her special ways of doing things, I began to figure out her patterns.

On this day, I found her lying beneath a large shepherd’s tree.The early morning sun shone golden open her dappled fur.
I came nearer to her, slowly. 

I was surprised because she did not move. Surely she could hear me?

Jasmin under the shepherd’s tree.

I edged closer, purposefully making loud footsteps so she would notice my presence. Still nothing. Jasmin was lying with her head up, facing the hills and valleys before us, but had her eyes closed shut. Only her whiskers twitched, as she breathed in the air. But as I came up to her, she finally opened her eyes, and gave me a slow, yet respectful, glance as I came close.

Jasmine glances at me

Then she slowly turned, and looked back out over her hunting grounds. And then closed her eyes once more. Jasmin took a long deep breath. Then released it. Her expression was one of complete, and utter relaxation. She seemed to have found a perfect state of peace.
I was amazed. For here was a wild animal, teaching the simplest, and yet so important, lesson in the world: Breathe.
Just take a breath.
It is wonderful what the air can do for your stress. For your fears. Your anxieties. When your emotions become overwhelming, close your eyes, take a breath, and live in a single moment of peace. Just one moment.
Emotions are not bad. They are entirely necessary. It how we know when we are happy or sad or scared. But allowing those emotions to control us, and make the calls on how we react is not good. Life can be terrifying at times, and we may want to allow those emotions to control us…but Jasmin is reminding us of something different…just breathe. When the rivers of emotions start to overwhelm, we just need to pause a moment and take a breath. And then, like this cheetah did after taking a moment for herself to breathe, begin your day. 

Do not take a leap into a river of fears, uncertainties, and anxieties without taking a breath first. You may yet have a swim before you, so take a second to breathe.

Trust and Choice, the Lesson of Two Cubs

Trust, and choice.
This is a beautiful example I observed one morning while monitoring a mother cheetah and her cubs.

The cubs were awaiting under a bush for their mother to return or to call them.


Without really thinking, these little cheetah cubs, and in fact all cheetah cubs, know to lie with their backs to each other, because they trust each other.
They are watching each other’s backs.


Yes, like any sibling they will play, they will bicker, but in these moments, when things get tough, when “mommy” is hunting and they are alone, they look after each other.
They do not question whether the other sibling is doing their job, they simply trust that he is.
Trust is an extremely difficult thing for us. But it is interesting, the example these little brothers are giving…


Neither of these cubs has control over what it’s sibling decides to do.
Yet they trust that their sibling is looking after them.
Both cubs have made the choice to look out for danger.
Both have made the choice to trust the other one is doing the same.
What I learned from this moment with these little cubs is this:
We often try, whether we mean well or not, to control others.
But at the end of the day, others will do as they will.
It all comes down to our own choice, we cannot control another person’s choices or actions, but we can control our own.
And we can also trust ourselves. We do know what’s right and wrong. And we can make a choice, at ANY point in our lives, to do the right thing.

Laugh, Says the Cheetah

Laugh.


It had been quite a day, I was feeling weary and scattered. But I still had to check on two more cheetahs.

These two cheetahs were brother and sister, they would soon be old enough that they would split and go on their own ways. But not quite yet…

They both followed a pattern in their territory, they would hunt and make a kill, then climb one of two mountains in their land. Until they became hungry again, and then would descend the mountain to hunt.

Today they were on top of one of those mountains.

I hiked up to the top, knowing them well enough that I would be able to find them if I just kept going.

I was quite exhausted when I did find them, both lying together in the shade, watching me with lazy interest.

The two of them rolled about, stretching, yawning, cleaning each other, and eventually playing with each other a bit, though rather lazily.
I had to laugh. They were both so relaxed and carefree. And as I laughed, I realized how important that moment I’m had been for me.


Find something in every day to make you laugh, you will find your life increases because of it.
This cheetah may have only been yawning when I took this picture, but in this simple action, he did two things…
He made me laugh.
And the fact that he “looked” like he was laughing, made me consider the importance of laughter…
Something we can learn simply by observing the nature around us, though the animals may not always realize it, sometimes the little things they do can bring us laughter.
So take a moment in every day to find something that makes you smile.
Humor is a beautiful thing.
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine…” Proverbs 17:22

Overcome. The Cheetah’s Message

Ivory, and his example of overcoming.

Overcome.


This cheetah was living a life in chains. He was chained to the ground. Forced to be petted by hundreds of people a day.

He did not know his mother. He was taken from her as a cub. And thus he was never taught how to hunt by her.

He was destined for a life behind fence. A life behind bars.
But then, this cheetah, whose name is Ivory, was given another chance at life…

He was released into the wild.


Experts said he would never be able to hunt. It was impossible. Because he never had a mother to teach him.

They said, he could never be wild.

It was a hot afternoon, I was out monitoring, and was looking for Ivory.

Deep in the thick bush, I found him.

He was a huge cheetah. Most people were nervous of him. He was very powerful. And I had seen him charge several men before. Though with me, he was always very calm. I believe because I showed him respect, and simply remained very calm when around him, it gave him the sense that, me being there, was totally normal. And thus he had no reason to have a reaction to me.

I also never went to close to his food.
So eventually, Ivory knew me to be an “Acceptable human”.
He would allow me quite close.


So when I took this image, Ivory had just made a kill. And as he tore into his meal, I watched his absolute ferocity. His most certain strength. How could anyone look at the magnificent example of power, and not see how incredible he was.

And as I was thinking this, marveling at his beauty and strength, he paused for just a moment, and looked into my eyes…

It was almost like he knew what I was thinking, and in his eyes he seemed to say, “I will always overcome.”

This magnificent cheetah did not doubt his ability to overcome all things.

So I believe Ivory is sharing a message to the world:

Your current circumstances may have you feeling trapped, chained, and behind bars.
All those “experts” and “judges” who seem to be good at declaring your wrongs, yet refuse to see their own, may be telling you what you are. Who you are.
What you cannot do.
What you can never be.

Ivory


But if a cheetah can prove wrong the naysayers, and rise above the darkness of current predicaments, you can too.
Challenges are a part of life. But we can overcome all things. We are built to succeed.
And Ivory is a perfect example of this.


Ivory is a fully wild cheetah.

He is living free at Amakhala Game Reserve.
And is a father of two cubs. And sure to be a father of many more magnificent cheetahs in the future.

An Elephant’s Wisdom on Leadership

An elephant drinking, the inspiration for this post.

This picture is a different angle of the largest land mammal on the planet…

I was observing a herd of elephants drinking from a waterhole, it was warm, dry afternoon in South Africa.

And I watched the matriarch of the herd, she led her “people” to the water. It seemed they must have traveled far, and were hot and weary. And they seemed so grateful to finally arrive at the water.

But the matriarch made sure all of the herd was together and drinking, before she herself began to relax and enjoy.

She never stopped making sure all things were in order, and everyone was safe…


Elephants have a matriarchal system.
They follow the wisest female.
And she passes on her wisdom and knowledge to the younger generation.
Yet why do elephants follow her?

Leadership is so important. And here is something the elephants show us regarding that:


Look at people’s ACTIONS.
Elephants learn from their actions. They make mistakes, they get through hardships together, and then they pass down the knowledge gained from their history from generation to generation.


An elephant matriarch does not lead by simply being the loudest.
She leads by the knowledge and wisdom that came from her experience. And what’s been passed down to her.

An elephant herd drinking after a long journey in South Africa.


An elephant matriarch is not a leader because she gains glory and praise, nor does she withhold her wisdom from others, she’s not worried about someone else getting credit.
In fact, an elephant matriarch actually often suffers, she must put herself in the face of danger, take action and make often very tough decisions, and sometimes those decisions do not work out, but they are not made for herself, she does it for the good of her family. Her people.
She wants success to be for everyone. Not just herself.

And whatever may happen to the herd, they always get it through it together.


An elephant matriarch also does not judge. She is not condemning the mistakes made by her people, who has time for that? With elephants, when a mistake is made, they come together to solve it. They get through it. And think nothing more of it, only learn from it.


Elephants support each other. They work together.


And isn’t it amazing that this animal walks our beautiful earth? That such an impressive creature can teach us so much in how we treat one another?
In what it means to be a leader.

What it means to be a team.


It is a great blessing to share the earth with such inspiring creatures. To be able to watch and observe the life around us, and better ourselves by learning from it.

An elephant herd at a river in South Africa.

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Moments With Wild Cheetah Cubs

Trying to grab my back pack strap, but was surprised when I caught him in the mischievous act

In this picture, one of the cubs I enjoyed monitoring the most, was caught in the act of trying to grab my backpack strap! Note his look of surprise that I caught him sneaking up from behind.
This little cub was certainly the most mischievous and brave of his brothers.
He was one of four brothers. And his mother was a beautiful first time mother cheetah named Catja.

It was part of my job to monitor this family every day.

Catja, the mother cheetah, would sometimes bring all four of the cubs close to me, when they were being particularly energetic and noisy, and she would then leave them with me and go off hunting on her own for awhile.
Catja and her cubs had come to know me well, and I them. Catja was a very clever mother, and she trusted me to the extent that, she knew I was human, and other predators will not bother humans. And thus, she knew if her cubs were alone with me, they would be safe.

So when she needed to hunt without the noisy cubs, and I happened to be out monitoring on foot, she would bring them to me.
I guess she also figured I would be a good distraction for her naughty youngsters!

Catja bringing her cubs to me for babysitting

Telling her cubs to stay, Catja would come up next to me, look me directly in the eyes for just an instant, and in this passing glance, I could see a weary gratitude. And she would pass on, disappearing into the scrubs beyond, heading towards the direction of antelope herds.

An awkward start to climbing


During these times, the cheetah cubs would chase each other, squeezing and squeezing and yowling at each other, they would climb trees, and of course, come and inspect me.

It wasn’t easy, but he got to the top

But it was this one particular cub that made it his goal in life to try and sneak behind me to try take my bag.

And eventually he did manage it.

He snagged my bag, which was empty because I had my camera with me, but it was to awkward for him to run with it. So, with his mother and brothers watching nearby with mild, but lazy interest, we had a brief tug of war for the bag. He eventually let go, but not without breaking the zipper. And then he proudly scampered back to Catja, who gave him a couple quick licks, and then rolled over to sleep.

I was laughing the whole time. And to this day, I still use that bag, and have never fixed the zipper. The memory is just to great!

After being naughty and his mother told him off, he gave her quite a look


So needless to say, this little cub certainly became a favorite of mine.


He was quite a unique character, and he never behaved this way with any other human.

He would come very close to me while I was taking pictures, so curious of what I was doing.
Walking up to me, quiet yet confident, he would lie down next to me, almost touching me, and just watch me. Sometimes, if I was focusing on something else, he would then start rolling around. Watching me all the while. And would just lay on his back, like he wanted to play. He was simply adorable! Of course he was wild, and I would never disrespect him by touching him. But his showing off certainly made it difficult!

But the most fascinating behavior of all, was he would purr at me.

Coming closer…


It was amazing. Here were these wild cubs, but because their mother knew me, and never saw me as a threat, and because I was having to check them every day, they just saw me as part of their lives.

And especially this cub.

It can only be described as an honor, and a blessing, to have meant something to these wild, beautiful cubs. To the point that one of them, would purr at me when I was around.


Now these cubs are getting bigger and bigger, soon to be adults, and they will start hunting on their own.

But I am certain they, this band of four brothers, will become as successful and powerful hunters as their mother!

An Elephant’s Lesson on “Your Choice”

Adult elephant teaching a young one how to use its trunk

An adult elephant teaching the young…

I observed this very special moment in Africa.

A herd of elephants came out of the Bush, hurrying along to a waterhole.

Dust storms arising at their mighty, yet quite, padded feet.

In amongst the middle of the adult elephants was one tiny baby.

Coming to the water.

He walked with the confidence of one who had not a fear in the world.

As the herd approached the water, taking not that there was no danger around, they then spread out a bit to enjoy the refreshing water.

One of the adults then chose to teach the baby elephant how to use its trunk to drink water…and in this special moment, they showed me a most beautiful lesson, which I believe the world needs to hear:


There may not be a way for us to perfect and control all things that happen in our lives, but certainly we CAN choose to do the right thing…
We can choose to learn from others, and to also teach others.


To rather be a guide and a positive example, than a judge and condemner.


To give, and to love.
To help when it is needed, to save another when we are called, and to forgive when we are asked.


Choose to be the reason someone takes a step forward.
Never be the reason someone trips.
Never choose to hurt someone.


Be the elephant who teaches the young.

We may not be able to control and avoid all of the hardships and challenges we face in life, but we most certainly can choose the way we treat others. And by choosing to better another’s life, we are also bettering our own.

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