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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
A mother and her son. This is a remarkable story of some of the cheetahs I worked with while I was employed as a Biodiversity Monitoring Officer in Southern Africa. My main duty was monitoring the cheetahs on the reserve. Some cheetahs were wild. Others were being reintroduced into the wild. It was the most fascinating line of work. Long hours tracking cheetahs in all manner of terrain, getting to know each one as an individual, seeing them succeed, seeing them fail, and seeing them rise again.Some of these cheetahs were captive their whole life! No one believed they could ever make it in the wild. But then they were given the chance. And they proved all the “experts” wrong. Cubs that had been taken from their mothers at birth, raised as pets, and then, through some very simple steps, released into the wild. Experts said it was impossible for them to hunt. No mother had ever taught them. But instincts showed otherwise. One of the first cheetahs I met and released was named Ava. She “couldn’t hunt”. In less than 24 hours, however, she had made her first kill. But today I want to share a very special story, of two very remarkable cheetahs that hold an everlasting place in my heart, and taught me very meaningful lessons that I want to share with the world…
Aero was a very special cheetah. She was a remarkable example of caring love and sacrifice. Aero was in captivity her whole life, she had many liters of cubs during this time, but never was allowed to raise them. She “was not able to”. She “wouldn’t know how to”. During these years Aero was fed a diet of chicken. Which is not natural for cheetahs. And does not have all the nutrients they need. 10 years of age, Aero was finally given the chance to be free. She was released into the wild, and began making kills. And she was finally allowed to have cubs, that she could keep. When I started monitoring Aero, she had three cubs.Two females, and one male. The male’s name was Storm. As I began my monitoring career, Storm became very sick and was struggling greatly. I was told that, before I arrived to start working, he had a run in with the fence surrounding the reserve, and had gotten his little paw stuck. However he had been fine, just stressed by the experience. Only days after starting my job, I came to find him one day, unable to walk. And I thought perhaps he had been climbing the fence again and this time had broken his leg.Storm was calling out, lying next to the fence, and unable to get up at all. He could only roll, as if his leg was not working. I had to do something.
However, I had another issue…The reserve manager and anyone that would know how to help this cub was away on holiday. AND they had no phone service. So I couldn’t even call them. But I did have the number for the vet in the area…who ended up being on holiday as well. Needless to say it quite a stressful situation. It came down to simply trying to keep the cub alive through the very cold and sometimes, wet, nights until we could get a vet to come see him. A lot of cheetah mothers will often abandon their cubs, especially if their cubs are so ill that they lose the ability to walk!
But not Aero. When her little one became ill, she gave him continuous tender love and care. No matter how he struggled, she never abandoned him. I remember how Aero acted. Vividly. From the moment I met her, Aero was simply, calm and gentle in nature. She allowed me to come quite close to her young cubs, and never showed me any aggression. She showed me tremendous respect, and of course, I did the same for her. I respected her boundaries, and her cubs’ boundaries.
It is a wild feeling, coming so close to a large, feline predator. Knowing what they can do. Knowing they take down prey larger than I am. But it is an even more incredible feeling, to have such a predator trust you. To come to know so many predators as individual beings, and have them know ME as an individual being.It is what makes these stories so much greater and more meaningful to share. Storm needed to be fed by hand, but he wanted nothing to do with the delicious food offerings he was being given. His sisters did not mind eating it though. So I was very stressed waiting for the day that either the vet could come out and check him, or to be able to take him to another veterinarian in town. And just simply trying to keep him ALIVE till that day. A former head ranger of the reserve, Jeandre, was visiting the lodge at the time, and helping out teaching new rangers.He assisted me greatly by coming with me to try and care for Storm, and giving me advice to try and figure out what to do. Jeandre also knew Aero, as he had been there when she first arrived. This was a massive relief for me. There was also the reserve fence patrol/maintenance team Gavin, Joseph, and Ashley. And though only Gavin spoke some English, they helped me so much also through a lot of the trials. But the true hero is Aero. Finally getting Storm to a vet, we were given medicine to help him, but still there was no answer to his ailment…nothing was broken. Yet he could not walk. And it what was even crazier, was that it seemed to be changing from limb to limb. One day his front leg ceased to work, the next day it was his back leg. But Aero did not abandon him. Some morning I came to him, expecting to find him dead or abandoned, because it was a very serious situation with no answers. But there was Aero. She would be lying with him, cleaning him and keeping him warm. Not only did Storm have to be fed his food by hand, but he now had to be given shots and medicine as well! And he did not like this, as you can imagine.Have ever tried to make a dog or cat take a pill? Try and get a cheetah cub to do it. With mama cheetah trying to keep you away. Storm was very upset by all of this, and would call for help from Aero.And at first, Aero did what any mother would do, she defended her cub. She kept her other two cubs away, and would then stand over her Storm, in his defense. She would slap the ground, hiss and snarl, and you could never turn your back to her. During this time I discovered a very simple solution to calm a charging cheetah…and it is now used by many cheetah sanctuaries across Africa…but this is another story. The cub needed food and medicine to continue living. He HAD to have it! So something different needed to be done. If Aero knew it was safe, then Storm would trust her and be more likely to cooperate. I took her view of the matter into consideration, and started really working with her to show her I meant no harm. Everything needed to be done with calmness and assertiveness. Thus, Aero began to trust me. And it was not long before she began to bring her other two cubs out when I would come. And then each morning and evening, Aero would lie down or sit next to me, while I worked with Storm. She was so calm sitting next to me. It felt as if we were simply two individuals on the same team, working towards the same goal. There was no aggression. She watched her cub, and did not even question what I was doing. It got to the point, when I was there with Storm, no matter how he argued with me on being cared for, Aero did not respond to his squeals of displeasure, she merely lay there, trusting what was being done. Knowing her cub was not being harmed. Aero’s presence next to me helped Storm to remain calm, and it gave me an overwhelming love for the incredible family bond they shared. She doted on her son. No matter what, she was not giving up on him. But Storm almost did not make it. Needless to say I spent many a sleepless night praying and worrying about the cub. Getting up before dawn to check on him, and give him his food and medicine, often afraid I would find him dead. But he was a VERY determined little one. And his mother was always with him when I would arrive, and his sisters were there too. He was very much a mamma’s boy. Aero certainly had him spoiled. Storm was almost put down when management thought he surely could not ever make it. And certainly would not be able to hunt if he did. There was no answer to what was wrong with him. But one thing that was found, was he had a massive deficiency in almost all nutrients. So we began loading him up with vitamins, calcium, and everything imaginable. And it turns out, due to Aero’s diet in captivity, she had none of the nutrients needed in her milk to give her cubs. And stress brought on issues as well, resulting in the extreme problems Storm was struggling with. Management came to the conclusion that the cub down would probably have to be put down, so that his suffering could be ended, and a full on biopsy could be done to figure out the problem, and maybe learn a solution. But I definitely could not see this happen, after all that he, and Aero, and I had been through. We were in it to win it!! I had to trust in Aero’s instincts. If she, who was a cheetah and whose natural instinct is usually to abandon a cub that can’t make it, still stood by her son, then we HAD TO ALSO. And sure enough, with some convincing to give him more time, we then put all focus on his extreme vitamin deficiency, and with a lot of care, love, prayers, and support, the little cub pulled through. Aero never gave up. She never ceased in the comfort she gave Storm. And Storm never stopped fighting to live. How can it be, that the Earth’s fastest predator never gave up on her son, and laid calmly next to me as I worked?
Sometime months later, I watched Storm, now grown into a young adult, learning to hunt with Aero, running as well as any cheetah. And only just recently, Storm, now quite a strong young adult, and one his sisters, made their first kill on their own.
Is this the same cub who “could never run again”, who “should be put down”? I do not doubt, for Aero showed me what was true, this young cheetah will “storm” through life, sure to be a powerful and unstoppable force. He was worth believing in. Everyone is worth believing in.No one should give up. We may not all have an Aero in our life to believe in us, but we can all be an “Aero” to anyone. We can choose this. There is so much we can learn from these two cheetahs, but one simple lesson that Aero portrays is this: we must never give up on our loved ones. Aero is a cheetah. But surely if the world’s fastest predator can have the care and determination to stand by her young, no matter his struggle, then we as human beings can give the love and determination to stand by ALL those who need us. Being so privileged to gain the trust of a cheetah mother, seeing that incredible support she showed her cub, will remain with me all the days of my life. And I hope all who read this story will be as moved and inspired as I am to have lived it.
Sometimes wildlife can remind us of how important our loved ones are. This picture I am sharing today holds a beautiful message. During my time monitoring cheetahs in the wild, and working for a cheetah conservation program, I witnessed this moment between these cheetah cubs and their mother.
The mother had been struggling with hunting. It was during the time of a great drought, and her prey opportunities became less and less by the day. And she had four growing cubs to feed!
So day after day, I tracked and monitored this cheetah family. Hoping and praying that something would happen for them. That this struggling first time mother would catch a break…or you know, at least catch an antelope!
I found the mother and her four cubs, resting after a very long day of failed attempts at hunting. They saw me every single day, so to them, I was just part of the environment.
I observed then a most remarkable moment between the cubs and their mother…
The mother had collapsed wearily, seemingly at her wits end.
And then, her little cubs all gathered around her, and began washing her in the same way she always did for them when they wear weary or afraid. It was so moving and touching, seeing this happen, and hearing their sweet purrs of comfort.
The mother cheetah then began to relax, and feel comforted, purring loudly with her encouraging babies.
And only days later, I watched this very same mother cheetah, make an absolutely stunning kill at her full speed. (This is around 70mph). This is another remarkable story for another day…
I am so blessed to have witnessed such incredible moments in the wild. And to learn from them. And share this with the world.
In this picture I photographed of this cheetah family, I want to share what I learned from them… Love your loved ones. Forgive your loved ones. Be there for your loved ones. Be strong for them. The love and support of family is so important…because we are always better together.
How truly special it is that we can see and learn these messages from the wild world around us.
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