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…

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.

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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Family. An Inspiring True Story, Taught by Cheetahs.

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.

Mother cheetah being comforted by her cubs

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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