Finding Peace (A Cheetah’s Advice)

At peace.

Taking time with Ava to find peace

I was out one morning, checking up on a cheetah named Ava.

I had come to know Ava so well, I could often find her without even tracking. I knew her well enough to go directly to the area she would most likely be in, depending on the weather, how much she had hunted, and whether or not she had caught anything.

She has always been one of my closest “friends” among the wild animals. Ava probably taught me the most about myself of all the cheetahs I’ve come to know.

When I found Ava, she was lying comfortably in the morning sun. Watching me. She had seen from afar. And having become so accustomed to her, and her ways, I had spotted her from a long ways as well.

I came close. And Ava purred a greeting. As she always did.

It was an extremely peaceful moment. I had Ava’s respect, and she had mine. And so with her, I knew I could squat down where I was, and she would not be bothered. As I did, Ava shifted to a even more laid back position. And for a few moments, we both had our own thoughts. Observing the awakening world around us.


It can be a extremely difficult task to reach a point of feeling at peace with yourself. Especially when, all around, you are constantly being overwhelmed by negativity coming from others or unpleasant happenings and circumstances.
The issue tends to be, we as individuals think we can control others and events.
We think can convince others to change their ways, that if we just keep trying, they will finally listen.
Problem is, no matter how nasty and truly wrong another person might be, we cannot simply change them.
We can’t force them to stop.
We can’t force them to change. 

But that’s not our job anyway. 

This does not mean we have to cease giving guidance and advice where needed, or love. But it’s not our job to just give these things because it’s demanded.
It’s our choice. 
No one should force us to give these things.
So we should never force others to give these things either.
Or to simply change because we want them to.

Finding peace with yourself means you can except what you can do, and what you cannot force to change. Life is going to happen whether you except it or not. But how you live your life, and the choices you make while you live, is ultimately your choice. 

You can make a mistake.
Guess what? It’s actually ok.
Because you can choose to fix it. 

You can be successful too.
And you can choose to enjoy it.
This is also ok. 

My very first morning with Ava

From day one, I observed how at peace Ava was with herself.
There was no action or circumstance that ever had an effect on her. Because she knew herself.
She knew what she could control. And excepted what she couldn’t. When she missed her prey, she excepted the outcome and tried again. 
And it was her choice.
When a new cheetah entered her territory, she faced it, and then they both went their separate ways. 
She excepted the circumstances that could not be changed.
And even when Ava was relocated and released onto a brand new reserve…I will never forget how she stepped out of the crate, took everything in around her…and made her choice to except it.
And keep living.
And to be at peace with it.

The last day I saw Ava, released on a new reserve to begin her final journey as a wild cheetah

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. 

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.

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.

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!

The Lions at Dawn

A lion at dawn…

A young lion coming out of the shadows into the dawn.

There is much to be said for this picture.

I was out monitoring before the sunrise, the creatures of the night still sang in the darkness beneath the last stars. 
It was very dark. And very cold.

But as a milky light touched the eastern horizon, the world became alive with the songs of the morning…yet resounding above them all was the thunder of the lion’s roar.
I followed the powerful, echoing call.

And as dawn arose, giving color to the world, out of the fading shadows came the lions.

They called to one another. Young and old. Their breath came from them like clouds of smoke in the cold.

And they joined forces together again after a long night apart…

A family of lions, coming together again after a long night.

Across the earth, wherever you are, wherever your loved ones are, though the night is dark now, dawn is coming. Have faith in the light on that horizon. And like the resounding song of the lions, we will know the victory that comes with the dawn, and in this, we will always come back together again.

Whatever your night may be, keep going.

Whatever the darkness, do not stop.

For like the lions, you do not know when the dawn comes, but there is no doubt that it will.
The light is often closer than you think.

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