Conquer the Darkness, Overcome the Predator

In a cheetah’s life, there is day and there is night. Most cheetahs live amongst bigger, stronger predators. And most of these predators will hunt under cover of darkness.


But a cheetah knows that, through the fear of night, and the unknown that might lurk in the shadows, they must keep going, because a new dawn is on the horizon, and with it, a glorious light.


All of us will and have and perhaps are, having to face “predators” in the “darkness”. There are many forms in which the predators take shape. They could be anxiety, temptation, anger, sorrow, or legit persons or even animals (depending on how and where you live in the world). 


But whatever the “predator” your facing is, it is just the same as the cheetah’s, these predators can hurt us. But only if we cave and give in to them. Only if we place ourselves in a position TO be hurt by them. We just have to get through the “night”. 


We just need to turn our focus to the oncoming dawn of a new day. 


The shadows and predators in our lives serve as merely a challenge in which we are born to overcome. 


And a reminder of the glory of a new day that awaits us at the finish line of our struggles.
So keep going. Because you are destined to get through it, whatever it may be.


And you will be a far more powerful individual because of it.


I took this photo early one morning, after many long nights this cheetah had been facing hunger and the fear of lions roaring in the darkness, yet in that glorious morning, there she was…she had made a kill at dawn, she was a champion that had conquered her “darkness”, and a powerful individual that had overcome her “predator”.
In the same way we are ALL meant to. 

Love is Selfless

Love must surely be the most powerful of all things. For no matter the distance, or the trials, it remains, strong and enduring…


Love and support one another.


Don’t hold others back.


Don’t put them down.


If you have the opportunity to either lift up someone in need, or put them down, it is ultimately your choice. It should not matter who or what they are. All life is worthy of upliftment.
Including yours.


No one should “demand” you love and support them. Nor should you demand they love and support you.


Love and support should come from the heart, it should be natural, in order to be genuine. And because of this, it will benefit both individuals in equality.


When you lift someone else up, don’t expect them to “owe” you for it. If this is the only reason you show “love” towards another person, then really it is not doing good for them at all. It is only for your own self gain.


That is not love. That is not support. 


Interestingly enough, doing true acts of love and kindness for another will always benefit both you and them. 


Here in this picture was a moment I was blessed to experience, two cheetah cubs supporting each other. Neither seemed to question the action of simply “being there” for the other. They both benefited from this interaction, purring loudly together.
I hope this image of selfless support in wild animals will bring thoughts of what love really means for us, and how we can support others in need. No matter who or what they are.

Hope is Glorious

Hope is glorious.
Sometimes the greatest struggles we face are actually blessings in themselves, for hope generally shines brightest when we are in our darkest moments.
Even if the future looks bleak, find hope in that you are still in the present, and the future has not yet arrived.

And we only reach tomorrow by finishing today.


This beautiful cub lost his mother, thus his future looked very bleak.
But he kept going any way, day after day, and found a way to not only survive, but thrive, against the odds.
He did not focus only on the bleakness of his future, but just getting through each day, simply by trying.


Today he is a young adult, together with his siblings, hunting on their own despite losing their mother at a young age. 
And they are living. 
Still living every day without question that they WILL make it to tomorrow.


Don’t give up hope. Just keep going!

All of us are built to overcome the odds and to thrive.

You can make it through anything. 


Keep on living!

Growing

Be strong. Always be strong. Because you are growing…
This is quite a mighty little cheetah cub, for though he is small now, (you can see him in comparison with his mother), one day he will grow to be larger than her.

However this is not going to happen overnight, because he still has to actually GROW.
Wherever you are in your life, remember to stay strong, because you are growing.
Whatever trials and hardships you face, whatever darkness that you cannot see through, you are growing. 
You ARE getting stronger. 
But growing also takes time.


Grow through the weaknesses.

Grow through the fear.

Grow beyond the shortcomings.

And grow above all that might hold you back.


There are so many challenges in life, but every individual has the ability and the power to stay strong, to overcome, and to never give up.
We are all growing. But the direction we choose to grow is our choice.
And so like this little cub, may we all choose to grow UP, with the desire to always become stronger and better, to not focus on what is negative and what holds us down, but rather how we can grow above such things.
There is no cheetah cub I know that grows DOWN. Because there is not one of them that I know, that has ever stopped trying.
Neither should any of us. 

The Lion in the Bush

The lion in the bush

It was a cold, dark morning.

The dawn was still far away.

It was only starlight that gave shadows in the bush.

I always started my mornings earlier than anyone else, because I found it was the best way to know the wildlife.
I liked to them from how they arose in the mornings. From the moment they started their day, or ended their night.

Lions coming out in the morning

Amid the mist laden valleys, the low roars of lions filled the cold air.
And based on the general direction, I had an idea of where the lions would be.

So I followed my instincts…
It was still very dark.
But I had a feeling, if I went to a particular place and waited, eventually the light of day would show me what I was certain would come…

I knew could try and follow the calls of the lions alone, and hope to pinpoint where they were, but I paused. Simply reacting to their calls I felt would more likely lead to confusion. The echos were to untrustworthy for exact direction.

So I instead trusted my instinct.
I went to the place…and waited in the silence of darkness.
Birds began to chirp as a pale light touched the horizon.
I hoped I was not wrong.  But perhaps I was? Maybe they would not come at all. And I was waiting for nothing…
But then in the darkness, I saw the eyes.
Not because they were glowing, for I was not using a light.
Only because it is always the eyes that stand out to me first.
An animal in the bushes can be completely hidden, but I always catch the movement of their eyes. There lay the great lion.
As the light of the world increased, I was able to snap this picture of the lion in the shadows.

And then all around came through roars of his pride, and one by one, each lion arose from the hills and shadows, and padded out into the open.

Lions coming out from hiding, calling to each other softly

And such is the glory of this lesson…In the darkest of times, when all around us the answer seems to be to follow the loudest call, we often think it would be much easier to simply react, and fall into the temptations of what we see as “safety”, for that can be such a loud and easy call.
Yet when we arrive, we realize it is not safety or peace.
It is in fact the same shadows as where we were before. 
Sometimes, we need to rather pause, in the darkness, and allow light to come on it’s own, and thus bring clarification. 
We cannot force the dawn to rise. But we can choose to pause.
Simply reacting and running to the first loud call will lead to the lions you cannot see.
But pausing, and choosing your reaction, because it is always your choice, this will show you the lion in the bush.
And then you will know the glory of the lions’ roar, instead of the terror.

Two male lions leaving their hiding place to begin the day

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.

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.