Samara – prelude

Lou Coetzer of CNP Safaris invited us to see and photograph an unusual wildlife experience in Samara in May this year. Samara is private game reserve about 25 kilometres south east of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is 67 0000 hectares in area and was formed by the acquisition of surrounding farms, with the initial farm being Monkey Valley. The owners of Samara wanted to acquire enough land to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that could carry wildlife in the fragile Great Karoo environment.

“Cherish sunsets, wild creatures, and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth! “~ Stewart Udall

This was the second time I have been to Samara. The first visit revealed rhino, cheetah, aardvark, giraffe, black wildebeest, ground squirrels and blue cranes set in vast magnificent landscapes. So I had an idea of what to expect from a wildlife and landscape perspective. This visit was primarily to see a cheetah mother called Chilli and her eight adolescents. Being adolescents, they were close to being forced to strike out on their own. Samara’s raison d’être is conservation so most of the adolescent cheetahs were destined for new homes in other reserves which wanted cheetahs. This meant there was limited time to experience a cheetah mother operating in the wild with her eight adolescents.

Eight cheetah adolescents is highly unusual. Cheetah mothers produce between one and six cubs after a gestation period of around 93 days. It is unusual to find more than four cubs. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, there are three stages in the life cycle of the cheetah: cub (birth to 18 months), adolescence (18 to 24 months) and adult life (24 months to on average 12 years).

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Samara is vast and the landscape is rugged. To be able to find Chilli and her family, the rangers used telemetry. Chilli had a VHF telemetry collar. This system is directional and the intensity of the beeps give some idea of distance. Down on the plains of the Great Karoo there are areas of thick bush as you can see from the next image. This Shepherd tree in the foreground overlooked one of the main areas in which the cheetahs were operating

On our first day of this trip we found many herbivores, the largest of which were the South African Giraffe, a subspecies of the Southern Giraffe. At present, the South African Giraffe population is estimated at 29,650 individuals, showing a marked increase over the past three decades. An assessment of the South African Giraffe for the IUCN Red List is ongoing, but with the large increase it will most likely result in a listing of Least Concern.

We found a family herd of nine adult giraffe. Unlike eland they do not run away as soon as they see you. In fact they can be quite curious and will stand to look intently at you. It is only when you get to within that “fight or flight” distance do they walk or run off.

“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” ~ James Allen

On our first afternoon, there were clouds to the west which cast deep shadows on the relief of the Camdeboo escarpment emphasising the ruggedness and creating different moods.

Judging from the amount of hair on top of their ossicones, most of the herd seemed to be females. The males had worn most of the hair off their ossicones while sparring and fighting each other. The males also have a distinct penal bump at the lower part of their belly.

Lions were first introduced into Samara in early 2019. They were the first free-roaming lions in the area for 180 years. One of the ways to find a predator is to look in the direction that a giraffe is steadfastly staring. The lion do not have a pride large enough to take down giraffe in Samara and the lions have remained mostly on the Camdeboo plateau where there is plenty of food, most notably black wildebeest.

“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.” ~ Wendell Berry

At dusk on our first afternoon we found Chilli and her family. With a family of eight adolescents and herself, she needed to hunt every day. Chilli hunted everything from springbok to young eland and kudu.

The introduction of lion into Samara will inevitably change the cheetah dynamics. For now the lions seem to prefer the plains on the plateau and the cheetah the lower plains at the foot of the Camdeboo escarpment. Once the lions increasingly occupy the lower plain they will inevitably start killing the cheetah cubs so the chances of ever seeing another eight member adolescent cheetah family will be very low in future years.

“Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for Man.” ~ Thomas Lovejoy

Twenty-four years ago Sarah Thompson and her husband bought the first farm which would form the nucleus of Samara. Since that time this Samara team under Sarah Thompson’s guidance has built up a substantial private game reserve where its essence is rooted in conservation and returning this game reserve to its natural ecological state. Samara has produced many conservation firsts in this area. One was the reintroduction of cheetah to this area in 2003 after having been missing for 125 years.

“Life in the natural world is more wonderous than we could ever imagine. There is strength, fortitude and intelligence beyond our imagination. Once we quieten down and observe we begin to see connections which were not evident to a passer by. With respectful, quiet observation we could learn much.” ~ Mike Haworth

Chilli’s story is an intriguing one which I will begin to describe in my next post.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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