It was mid January when I was in the Ndutu region, which borders the world famous Serengeti National Park- NorthernTanzania as part of a three-week trip, also including the lesser-known Ruaha National Park in the southern area of Tanzania. One early afternoon, we were following a female cheetah and her 12-month-old sub-adult son on a hunting assignment. They were scanning the open grassland when, soon after, the young male started to take an interest in our vehicle, sniffing then scratching the rear tire and then walking around to the front—and, to our amazement, he attempted to jump onto our hood!
My guides, Fadhil and Socy, and I could only dream that this young sub-adult male would take an interest in our vehicle and, after jumping up on our hood, he then proceeded to our open roof where he peered down into our world—an unforgettable moment to savour! He came so close that he was biting my lens hood and licked my fingers!! He then jumped across our open roof to the rear, closed-section and started playing with the radio aerial.
Just an absolute privilege, he was as calm as we were and seemed to recognise that we were as interested in him as he was with us! Making a combination of our guides’ names, he became known as “Fadcy.” Over the next few days, and even with other vehicles around, he took a preference for our vehicle only and seemed to recognise us, as well!
Upon his initial jump onto the hood, I had two bodies within reach, both not suitable for this close encounter, one a 70-200 f/2.8 and the other a 500 f/4. I did have a D700 with 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, however, but it was tucked away in the rear seat. Reacting quickly, I asked my guide to pass the 24-70 over swiftly but without any sudden movements. With my heartbeat racing ever faster, I quickly changed my aperture to f/7, giving me suitable DOF. I needed to go as wide as possible, hence 24mm, and cropped out the roof frame. He was that close at times his breath was fogging up my lens! Considering the time of day, I think the lovely blue sky backdrop adds nice depth and punch to the image, and his open snarl, the result of seeing his reflection in my guide’s iPhone screen, takes this up another notch for me.
Unlike adult females who sometimes use vehicles as a high vantage point to scan for prey, this sub-adult male would most likely grow out of this “inquisitive stage” of development and not seek this attention later, which is probably not such a bad thing, as it could lead to unfavourable outcomes if it became a habit. – Marc Mol
These images as well as other shots from the series are available as prints here. See more of Mol’s work on his website at www.AfricaAddict.smugmug.com. Follow him on YouTube, 500px and Facebook.
Equipment and settings: Nikon D700, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 f/2.8G ED zoom lens @ 24mm – 1/1250th @ f/7.1 – ISO 200