Cheetah - the fastest land mammal on the planet. Here's our handy guide to help you chose your safari destination if seeing cheetah is high on your bucket-list.
16 Jun 2021
Share article on
I have been lucky enough to have travelled extensively around Africa for the past 20 years, even spending time guiding in Botswana and privately guiding trips through Kenya.
In each of those trips I was blessed with incredible game viewing, however, the most illusive species on each safari was the cheetah, this may be down to bad luck, not being in the right place at the right time or just that they tend to be the more secretive and illusive of the large carnivores.
Sharing the same habitat as lions, leopards and hyenas cheetahs are vulnerable to attack. Their slight, delicate and nimble frame is built for speed therefore they tend to keep a low profile and avoid any confrontation. Living a relatively solitary life they do not form prides or clans to fall back on, therefore any serious injury will often result in the animal not being able to hunt and often succumbing to hunger. Unlike other large carnivores found in similar areas cheetahs prefer a particular habitat to hunt. Built for speed they tend to prefer open grassland and expansive plains so they can reach their top speeds and out manoeuvre their prey, this definitely contributes to them being one of the more tricky species to spot on safari.
Tanzania, Serengeti National Park
Tanzania, Serengeti National Park
On the top of my list of places to see cheetah would be the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Undoubtedly this is perfect cheetah habitat with its open grassy plains and abundance of prey species. Cheetah can be found here all year round, however, I would suggest the southern areas around Ndutu from December – March for the highest chance of sightings.
A good place to stay would be Ndutu Safari Lodge or the Lemala Ndutu Mobile Tented Camp. Any time in the dry season is also recommended with vegetation at its thinnest you will have the highest chance of coming across cheetah and any other of the large carnivores found in this region.
Kenya, Masai Mara National Park
A close second on my list would be Kenya, and in particular the Masai Mara National Park which is home to one of the highest densities of cheetah in Africa. The Mara understandably has one of the highest visitor numbers resulting in many of the animals, including the cheetah being less wary of vehicles. In some cases the cheetahs are so comfortable with the vehicles they use them as high ground to climb up and get a good view across the grassy plains, although this is not encouraged. Much like the Serengeti National Park, the migration heads north crossing the Mara River providing plenty of prey for the high numbers of waiting predators.
With cheetah present all year round I would suggest visiting the Mara out of season when the park is quitter between the months of April – May when tourist numbers are at their lowest. There are a number of camps in the Mara to choose from all giving access to the national park and its incredible wildlife. A particular favourite of mine would be Kichechi Mara or any of the Governors Camps for their great location near the Mara River.
Botswana, Central Kalahari Game
Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers 9% of the country yet only has 2 permanent camps which goes to show how truly wild and remote this region is. As a guide and frequent traveller to the Central Kalahari this makes each sighting a little more special. The Central Kalahari is made up of a combination of grasslands, old river valleys, small sand dunes and salt pans. These grassy plains and pans provide the perfect hunting ground for the cheetah.
In comparison to other cheetah hotspots the populations of other predators such as lion and leopard are lower with no spotted hyena found here at all. This could be another reason for a healthy cheetah population. A good time to travel to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is March – July. At this time the grasses in the pans are lush and full of nutrients drawing in many of the cheetahs favourite prey species. Either of the 2 camps in the Central Kalahari are good for cheetah potential, these are Kalahari Plains and Tau Pan lodge.
South Africa, Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park, like it is for many predators, is also one of the top places to spot cheetah. It doesn’t have the endless grassy plains like East Africa, however, this shows how they are able to adapt to different habitats like the wooded areas found in the Kruger potentially offering refuge for the high number of leopard, hyena and lion also found in the area.
Kruger has many lodges, however a favourite of mine is Nottens Bush Camp, although there are plenty of great options to suit your budget and requirements. Another area in South Africa which is also highly worth a mention is the Phinda Game Reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal and since their reintroduction in 1992 their numbers have sky rocketed. In Phinda, we would recommend Vlei lodge which is small and intimate and located in the heart of the reserve.
Namibia, Etosha National Park
As you would expect, the wide open grasslands of Etosha National Park are the perfect hunting ground for these big cats. Like a lot of Southern Africa, the best time for game viewing in Namibia is often the winter months from April onwards. During this time the grasses a low making cheetahs more visible, there are also a number of accessible waterholes in Etosha National Park which predators tend to stay relatively close to. Okakuejo Rest Camp is a sizeable property, however, it’s the perfect place to break up any Namibian self-drive trip. and in a prime location for game viewing whether is by vehicle or watching over the large floodlit waterhole.
Five cheetah facts:
Cheetah can reach speeds of up to 70mph but can only sustain this speed for a short time.
Unlike lions and leopards, cheetah can not roar but instead chirp and purr.
A cheetah’s tail is heavy in proportion to the rest of its body and uses it as a counterweight as it’s manoeuvring at high speeds.
Cheetah claws are only semi-retractable – meaning they’re permanently pronounced and act just like a sprinter’s running spikes.
Once widely spread throughout Africa and Arabic countries, cheetahs are now critically endangered.
If seeing cheetah in the wild is on your bucket-list of experiences in Africa, get in touch and we'll create your perfect tailor-made safari to key destination, giving you the maximum opportunity to see these magnificent big cats in their natural environment.
Call us on 01768 603 715 or click the enquiry button below...
Start planning your ultimate safari to go in search of cheetah