Where to go cheetah tracking in the wild Karoo

Posted by Melanie van Zyl on 25 April 2018

The Karoo is famed for its slow-turning windmills, quirky roadside padstals and flat, infinite plains, but there are exciting projects in place that look at creating a wilder country space.

Those endless plains make the Karoo an excellent place for cheetah.

For the May issue of Getaway, I took an enchanting road trip that crosses four remarkable Karoo parks and only settles for top country views. On the trip, I found two places where one can have incredible and responsible encounters with one of Africa’s most beautiful cats.

Also read: How to have an affordable free range Klein Karoo stay

 

Best for budget trips

1. Mountain Zebra National Park

Mountain Zebra

With the mountains of Cradock in the background and Mountain zebra grazing peacefully before them, this quintessential Karoo landscape never gets old! Photo by Melanie van Zyl

The park’s resident cheetahs are closely monitored and you can see these lithe creatures in their natural, wild environment by tracking them with a guide. When lions were introduced to Mountain Zebra National Park (which is near Cradock in the Karoo) the five resident cheetahs were being closely monitored to assess the adjustment to these fine new felines.

Not so new anymore, the lions at Mountain Zebra National Park have settled in well. This picture was taken just three kilometres from the main rest camp. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

Sergeant Ranger, Donovan Antonie, says ‘Initially, the cheetah tracking activity wasn’t planned – as an endangered species, the cheetah in the park had to be monitored’. Cheetah in the park wear a collar and each one costs nearly R50000. This gives visitors the opportunity to see these lithe creatures in their natural wild environment by tracking them with a guide, in turn providing a great commercial opportunity for the park.

The drive begins in the morning and the guides try to get a bearing, whenever they get to an elevated, open space,. Two cheetahs in the park wear collars, but radio-tracking doesn’t necessarily guarantee a sighting. Signals on the telemetry device give a good indication as to the general area, but to pinpoint the cheetah you’ve still got to walk a particular pattern and use your senses. Cheetah tracking also means that participants get a game drive into private parts of the park out of the activity as well.

Mountain Zebra Rock Chalet

New chalets perched up in the koppie at Mountain Zebra National Park have amazing views. There’s a fireplace for winter and an outdoor shower for summer. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

Do it: The drive begins at 08:30 and booking is essential. R400 per person (age 12 and up, for two people minimum). Tel 0488015700, sanparks.org

Stay here: Don’t miss out on the newest addition to Mountain Zebra National Park. The two-bedroom Rock Chalets are amazing. Luxurious and spacious with windows as walls facing the park and rocks cleverly built into the stoep, you feel miles away from the main rest camp even though you’re still in it. From R3170 (sleeps four). Tel 0488015700.

 

A bit of a splurge

2. Samara Private Game Reserve

Cheetah Samara Private Game Reserve

Often overshadowed by bigger predators in other reserves, at Samara the cheetah sits at the top of the food chain. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

A herd of six elephant was introduced to Samara Private Game Reserve at the end of 2017 – the first time ellies have roamed this part of the Karoo in roughly 200 years.

Samara is no stranger to conservation and has strongly focused on cheetah for the last 12 years. In fact, you can watch a documentary film about it. Thanks to a radio monitoring system chances are good you can catch up with them – even on foot.

Our guide listens for the faint beeps of the radio collars to determine their direction. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

Just 20 minutes drive from Graaff-Reinet, Samara comprises 27000 hectares and opened in 2005 to tourists. The cheetah tracking activity starts with a game drive across the Karoo plains. Now and again, our guide pokes an aerial skywards to decipher the faint beeps left by the cheetah. At last count, there were seven on the reserve.

The cats were incredibly relaxed when we left the vehicle to approach them on foot. Photo by Melanie van Zyl


 
Also read: Guide to Graaff-Reinet accommodation

Cheetah are already well-established in the reserve and plans are in place for lion to join them. Although lion and cheetah don’t get on too well, since the cheetahs were here first they’re better suited to coping with the introduction of another predator.

Cheetah Samara Private Game Reserve

The beautiful spacious rooms are tucked into the Karoo bush at the luxurious Karoo Lodge. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

Vulture used to roam the skies here, but lacking carcasses they moved on. The manager at Samara, Marnus Ochse, is hoping that bringing lion back to the Karoo will help the birds too. ‘We want to see Cape vultures again and we need lions for that’. Not to mention the tourism boost. With lion present in the park, Samara hopes for higher visitor numbers and boosts in job creation. ‘It is the dream of Samara’s owners, Mark and Sarah Tompkins, to once again see the footprints of indigenous animals obliterate the scars humans have left on this land’.

Cheetah Samara Private Game Reserve

According to our guide, the name ‘Karoo’ comes from an ancient San word meaning ‘Land of Great Thirst’. This semi-arid region in the middle of South Africa covers an area roughly the size of Germany. Photo by Melanie van Zyl

Stay here: This is a luxury five-star stay that’s absolutely charming. Take advantage 
of SADC discounts and low-season rates. Full board, including cheetah tracking, all meals and selected drinks, is from R2825 per person in winter.
Tel 0312620324

Read more about how to see the Karoo’s wild places in the May issue!

 

Get the full story in the May issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our May issue features top snow escapes in SA, an exploration of the calming Gariep Dam, different experiences in Lesotho’s National Parks, breathtaking photography of Cyril Ramaphosa’s Ankole cattle and more.

 

 

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