An Unbelievable Morning With Cheetahs You Need to Experience

While we were in South Africa, part of our 9 days with Mafigeni Safaris included a cheetah bush walk experience at Tshukudu Game Lodge – you can read about my time with Mafigeni here! This was a highlight for me and one of the things I was looking forward to most!

I distinctly remember the night before, our guide informing us that it would be an early start. Ok – we thought – they’ve all been early starts so far, meeting around 7 or 7:30 for breakfast before taking off for the day. How we were mistaken! We had a meeting time of 4:30 am and were shuttled on to the bus to get us to Tshukudu in time for a sunrise bush walk with cheetah.

Two hours later and still half asleep, we arrived at Tshukudu and met our guide (and owner!), Chris, for the day. He informed us that we were going to walk (not far!) to where he last spotted their two resident cheetah.

Ok – whoah – we’re just going to fearlessly walk up to these two wild cheetah that are right by the lodge? Isn’t anyone concerned?

Cheetah Tshukudu
Early morning arrival

A back story

Tshukudu Game Lodge is a reserve bordering Kruger National Park with all types of animals ranging from rhino to lions to wildebeest and everything in between. They are a “Big 5” reserve which means they are home to Rhino, Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Leopard (if you’re lucky to spot one)!

There are chalets which you can stay overnight in dotted around the grounds – and because these chalets are out in the open at the reserve, it really meant that any animal could come up to your chalet in the middle of night.

As we walked our way out to the cheetah, our guide casually told us this story of a young lady who was staying in one of these chalets. They had gone to check on her and found the front window was smashed and there was blood all over the room. That young lady was nowhere to be found and they thought – oh no – what attacked her??

As it turns out – she was hiding in the wardrobe. Something (either a lion or cheetah) was chasing an impala and it jumped through the window. She had no idea what was happening so she hid until she was found. Sadly, the fate of the impala was different. This is the story we heard before we even saw any cheetah, so I’m sure you can understand my concern here.😂

We arrived just in time for sunrise – which really was a beautiful moment. There is something about early morning light that is so magical.

We saw these two beautiful big cats, brothers Hunter and Floppy (aptly named because he had a deformed ear). Sadly, just before our visit, their sister Ntombi was killed by hyenas from a neighbouring property. She – according to our guide – was one of the friendliest big cats around. She was the runt of the litter and rejected by her mother, so was hand reared and received regular bottle feedings and attention. Now her brothers carry on her legacy.

Cheetah bush walk
Baby Ntombi
Source: Tshukudu Game Lodge Facebook page

Hunter and Floppy were unfortunately orphaned a young age when their mother, Savannah, was killed while she was protecting them from lions.

When the team at Tshukudu found out Savannah was pregnant, they moved her to a secure location to protect her cubs from the fate that met her first litter. Because they had such a close eye on them from an early age, they are habituated to humans because of their circumstances as cubs, and although they live on their own terms, they often visit guests at the lodge, relaxing at the pool, and joining on morning bush walks.

Seems surreal, doesn’t it?

Walk with Cheetahs
Hunter (front) and Floppy

A morning visit

Here we were – surrounding these two sleeping cheetahs who refused to acknowledge our existence. They had just fed on an impala the day before (you can see Hunter’s extended belly) so they were quite lazy – making a prime photo opportunity for us!

Each of us were able to slowly approach Hunter while our guide attracted him long enough to hold his head up. His fur was soft but course – not quite like a cat but not rough either. It was dense and not at all what I expected.

We learned that cheetahs are the only big cats that have their claws out at all times. This is because they are built for speed – and require their claws for traction and grabbing on to their prey. For this reason we were warned to move very quickly out of the way if Hunter rolled over. One swipe of those claws could do some damage, even if it wasn’t intentional!

It’s funny how many comments I get about my photo with Hunter and the questions about whether he is alive or not. Yes – he is VERY much alive! 😂 I never in a million years would have thought I’d be right next to a cheetah, and so calm too!

walk with cheetahs
I never though I would get this close, ever!

The original intent of coming here was to have an early morning bush walk with these two – but given they were digesting their meal, they didn’t seem too interested in walking alongside us. That was a little disappointing, but I can totally relate to how he must have felt after a big meal and I am so grateful for the photos and the opportunity to see them so close!

We left Hunter and Floppy to snooze in the peaceful daybreak and we made our way back to the main lodge.

Quick Cheetah Facts

We learned so much about these fascinating animals with our fantastic guide. He even told us about their black line tear-drops under their eyes and how they serve as an anti-glare device so they don’t get blinded while they’re sprinting after prey. Cheetah are also one of the most easily domesticated cats and their domestication goes back to Ancient Egyptian civilizations dating back to at least 1550 BC.

Everyone always wants to know how fast a cheetah can run – and it’s a staggering 112 kph (69.5 miles per hour for my American friends!). They are built for short bursts of energy, but as the fastest land animal, most of their prey usually doesn’t stand a chance.

You know that old saying, “I don’t have to outrun a bear, I only have to outrun you?” Throw that adage out of the window.😂

An early morning game drive

Shortly after our visit with Hunter and Floppy, our group of 13 was split in to two 4×4 open-air safari vehicles for our early morning game drive which was SO awesome because it allowed for unobstructed views of our surroundings – but at that time of day it was so cold! This is where I was grateful for my jacket and scarf (see my 13 must-pack items for a safari here)!

Cheetah experience tshukudu
Early morning open-air game viewing!

From here we drove around the reserve scouting for wildlife. We first came across a herd of cape buffalo – which can be quite aggressive if provoked. I was laughing (crying?) at my husband as I clung on to his arm as we went off-roading through scrubby bush just to get up close to the herd. Mothers with babies corralled them to the middle and we were given the side-eye from a few. And I thought – there is literally nothing stopping this cape buffalo from ramming our vehicle right now and we have no protection.

Once I saw they really didn’t mind us being there, loudly making our way through the brush, it was amazing to get up so close to them. We eventually made our way back to the main road before getting a call on the walkie-talkie that there was a rhino sighting (eek!).

tshukudu cape buffalo cheetah walk
I’m not too sure about that look I’m being given.

No such luck trying to find this older rhino (much to my disappointment), but we DID learn all about rhino poop. Yes, that’s right, we all leaned outside of our safari vehicle just so we could get a closer look at these desicated piles of poop on the side of the road. What are we doing?

I had no idea that rhino use their droppings like a social network. The chemicals that show up in it give indications of age, health, reproductive status, etc. These community toilets are known as “middens” and can sometimes be 65 feet across. Now that’s a sight to see. 😂

Just as we were getting our important photos of said midden (I still don’t know why we took photos!), we got another call about a lion sighting. Here we go again!

Bumping along the dirt road whipping our heads from side to side to take everything in was pretty exhilarating, considering we knew there was a lion to be seen!

The thing with lions is they’re quick and they blend in so well with their surroundings, especially at this time of year (going in to South Africa’s winter) when there wasn’t a ton of greenery around. We eventually spotted him – and I tried to withhold my jealousy as the other half of our group got their first. He darted away into the brush so naturally we had to follow him.

Cheetah interaction south africa
See how well he blends in?

The shrubs and trees in South Africa aren’t like the ones you’d find here in Canada or the USA. They are sharp and have barbs on them, and as our driver went off-roading and deeper into the brush, I found myself nearly in my husband’s lap trying to avoid getting snagged (ps. I got my fair share of whips and snags but it was worth it!).

We trailed this young male for a bit before it came nearly impossible to go after him anymore, and I was grateful not to get stuck out in the open. 😂 We drove around for a bit more and saw loads of wildebeest which are surprisingly much smaller than I envisioned after watching The Lion King as a child (and a 30 year old), birds of prey and vultures, before making our way back to camp.

A perfect way to end the morning

By 8 am we were back at the lodge for a buffet breakfast – scouting for animals makes you hungry. There was an expansive display of pastries, cereal, and an omlette station cooked to order. We shared stories (and laughs) about what we saw and all admitted that for it being such an early morning, we were all wired (or maybe it was the copious amounts of coffee??).

I wandered over to the terrace overlooking a huge bird feeding area – and couldn’t believe all the hornbills (think Zazu from the Lion King!) and these cute grey birds called the “Go-Away-Bird”.

AKA my spirit animal.

Were they annoying? Is that how they got their name? It’s actually because of their call – it sounds like they are saying go away. I can relate.


Final Thoughts

Visiting Tshukudu Game Lodge and interacting with cheetahs was a dream. I never would have anticipated being this close to a wild animal on purpose, let alone petting it! If you have the opportunity to do something like this, I would highly recommend coming here. The guides are knowledgeable and you’ll learn some amazing facts about the wildlife here. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with big cats and maybe even spot some of the Big 5!

This is definitely an experience I will never forget. Thank you to Mafigeni for bringing us here!

Cheetah experience South Africa
Our gang!

Pin it for later!

Unbelievable morning with Cheetahs
Cheetah Tshukudu Experience
Early morning Cheetah experience
Cheetah experience South Africa


  1. June 1, 2020 / 10:42 am

    You are brave! I love cheetahs but even I was a little hesitant to be as close as I was at the Cheetah Centre. What an amazing experience you had! And then a fun game drive after 🙂

    • Sarah
      June 1, 2020 / 10:51 am

      Hahah!!! I was a bit nervous at first – I can’t deny that! But it was so exhilarating! I could do game drives all day long (as can you I am sure!). Thanks for your comments :)!

  2. June 1, 2020 / 11:21 am

    What an incredible adventure! A wildlife safari in Africa has been on my bucket list ever since I was a little girl. Your amazing photos make me want to go more than ever!

    • Sarah
      June 1, 2020 / 12:09 pm

      Thank you!! It’s one thing I now recommend to everyone if they can manage it – it was truly life changing!

  3. June 3, 2020 / 5:09 pm

    This looks like an amazing experience! I would love to go to Africa someday.

    • Sarah
      June 3, 2020 / 7:02 pm

      It was truly unreal!!! You should put Africa on your bucket list – it’s amazing!!!

  4. June 4, 2020 / 5:43 am

    Gosh, what an amazing experience! The way you were describing this walk I was a little worried but I have to say, with a name like Floppy, well, he doesn’t sound terribly wild! That photo of you with Hunter is very very cool – I bet it’s framed and displayed somewhere central. I love this post, thanks for sharing!

    • Sarah
      June 4, 2020 / 7:47 am

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comments! It was unreal – but I am so glad I did it!!

    • June 18, 2020 / 10:59 am

      Wow this sounds fantastic! Great post with loads of information. Would love to do something like this one day.

      • Sarah
        June 18, 2020 / 11:37 am

        Thank you! It’s just amazing – I hope you’re able to experience something like this too one day – photos just don’t do it justice!

  5. June 6, 2020 / 12:52 pm

    This is amazing! Love the cheetah pictures, what an awesome sounding experience

    • Sarah
      June 6, 2020 / 8:26 pm

      Thank you! It was incredible!! 🙂

  6. roshni
    June 10, 2020 / 10:57 am

    Great post, didn’t know why cheetahs had a black line under their eye and now I do!

    • Sarah
      June 10, 2020 / 3:22 pm

      Nature can be pretty fascinating! Thanks!

  7. June 10, 2020 / 11:38 am

    Wow! I think I’d be running the other direction if I heard that story about the chalet with the smashed window.

    • Sarah
      June 10, 2020 / 3:23 pm

      Hahahha right?? 😂 He should’ve told us that after!

  8. Jessica Angileri
    June 10, 2020 / 1:11 pm

    This is so cool and a dream of mine! It is beautiful to see them in their natural habitat. What a beautiful story love it.

    • Sarah
      June 10, 2020 / 3:23 pm

      Thank you so much! It was really incredible to see them how they should exist! ❤️

  9. June 11, 2020 / 10:11 am

    What an amazing experience! You have me dying to make my way to Africa now. How beautiful are those animals!

    • Sarah
      June 11, 2020 / 1:41 pm

      You totally should! I recommend this trip to everyone! It just doesn’t compare to anything else.

  10. June 11, 2020 / 4:59 pm

    Wow, to be so close to a cheetah – what a memorable experience. I have wanted to visit South Africa and visit a game reserve since I was little. I had better do it before more animals are extinct 🙁

    • Sarah
      June 11, 2020 / 5:55 pm

      You should go if you can! It’s unreal – and really was a lifechanging experience. Nothing compares to seeing the animals in their natural habitat!

  11. June 12, 2020 / 11:30 am

    This is so cool. I never even thought of going somewhere like this but now I am interested for sure!

    • Sarah
      June 12, 2020 / 11:36 am

      Thanks! It was really interesting learning all about them – and getting so close!!

  12. July 4, 2020 / 9:54 am

    Holy heck! Who knew you could get so close to these beautiful creatures?! Just wow! It’s definitely on my list now for my South African trip. Also, love that you mention your spirit animal. Mine is a leopard and I have yet to see one in the wild.. but hope to one day ❤️👍🏻

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 10:13 am

      Thanks Mindy! It was exhilarating! Leopards are SO difficult to see – if it wasn’t for our guide at Kruger we never would’ve spotted it! I hope you’re able to see one too, one day! 🙂

  13. July 4, 2020 / 10:14 am

    What an amazing experience! South Africa is on my short bucket list. We hope to go within the next year or two. Just starting my research on safaris. Yours looks really interesting. Thanks!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 10:24 am

      It was amazing!!! I highly recommend doing a safari if you can – it’s unlike nothing else! I hope you’re able to as well!

  14. July 4, 2020 / 10:28 am

    Would love to visit Africa and go on a safari, and see the wild animals in their real habitat. Informative post!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 10:37 am

      Thank you! It’s absolutely incredible and I recommend it to everyone if they can swing it!!

  15. July 4, 2020 / 10:44 am

    This looks like an incredible experience. I’m planning a trip to South Africa and hope to visit places like this! Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:22 pm

      I would recommend it to anyone, it’s amazing! I do hope you get here 🙂

  16. July 4, 2020 / 11:43 am

    The only cheetah I’ve seen that up close and personal was a behind-the-scenes tour at the San Diego zoo. That cheetah also had a dog best friend and that’s where I learned they are good companions for the high-anxiety cheetah. I would love to see them someday in the wild!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:23 pm

      That’s amazing!! We learned that they are the easiest big cat to domesticate – but had no idea they would be friends with dogs too! It’s amazing seeing them in the wild – like nothing else!

  17. Bill Rouw
    July 4, 2020 / 11:59 am

    Sarah :: You are doing an amazing job retelling all of your experiences with such detail. Even though we were with you on the South African trip I am still awed by your accurate account of each excursion. Well done girl !!!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:24 pm

      Thank you Bill!!! Thank you for introducing us to such an incredible experience. We can’t wait to go back!

  18. July 4, 2020 / 12:26 pm

    I have been on a few wildlife tours in the United States, but never a Safari tour. What you said about the Cape Buffalo is very similar to the American Buffalo in the American Great Plains.

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:25 pm

      I imagine they would be similar!!! I’ve never done a US wildlife tour but would love to do that too – nothing beats seeing animals in their natural environment!

  19. July 4, 2020 / 12:37 pm

    Sounds like one amazing experience. I have been to Mauritius, but South Africa is number one on my list. Great post and pinning so I have as a guide to hangout with the cheetahs.

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:26 pm

      Thanks Chrissy!! I’d love to get to Mauritius. I fell in love with Africa and we’re booked to go back next year to a few other countries. Fingers crossed!

  20. July 4, 2020 / 12:50 pm

    Oh wow! What an incredible experience. I am so jealous. You like totally PET a real life Cheetah and it just laid there like a house kitty! I love animals! I so need to go on a African Safari like right meow!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:29 pm

      Yes you do!!!😂 I recommend it to everyone – and apparently they are the easiest big cat to domesticate. A lot of the Egyptians had them as pets. Who would’ve guessed!!!

  21. July 4, 2020 / 2:06 pm

    OMG this would be heaven for me! I love animals. I did get to meet a young lion and gorilla once, but being able to get that close to a cheetah would be amazing! I think I would be a little terrified, but at the same time thrilled! So cool, thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:30 pm

      That sounds amazing! I’d love to see some wild gorillas too. Hopefully one day! It was definitely a bit nerve-wracking but I guess I was too half-asleep to really realize what I was doing 😂

  22. Laurel Prodahl
    July 4, 2020 / 3:32 pm

    I loved seeing your photos. It reminds me of being in Africa last year! I’m heading back there in April (hopefully). We weren’t near here, but we spent some time at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge! Can’t wait to get back!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:32 pm

      Incredible!!! I hope you are able to go! We’re also heading back next year – fingers crossed!!!

  23. July 4, 2020 / 7:01 pm

    WOW this experience sounds so cool – and understandably a bit scary! An african safari (or something like it) is definitely on my bucket list!

    • Sarah
      July 4, 2020 / 9:32 pm

      It absolutely should be!!!! I would recommend it to anyone. I hope you’re able to go – it’s unlike anything else!

  24. July 5, 2020 / 2:32 am

    Oh my goodness, what an unforgettable experience! I’d love to do this! I think my two cats at home think they’re cheetahs…they are excellent at stalking spiders and like to run around the house as fast as they can at 4am! Hunter and Floppy also look like our two after they’ve had a big meal! It’s a shame they didn’t fancy a stroll but lovely that you got to say hello to them, they look like magnificent creatures!

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 9:21 am

      They were so beautiful and CALM! I was so surprised they just ignored us! I can totally identify with rambunctious kitties at home – I swear mine thinks he’s a lion sometimes!😂

  25. July 5, 2020 / 6:43 am

    What a beautiful animal! And a total adventure. I’ve also had a read through the other posts on your African travels… it looked like an amazing trip.

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 9:13 am

      Thank you Sharon! It was so memorable and definitely a trip to cherish forever!

  26. July 5, 2020 / 9:44 am

    What an amazing experience! African safari is on top of our unique travel experiences bucket list. I heard that these big reserves are key to protect wild animals from losing their habitat.

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 10:06 am

      They absolutely are! It’s sad that many of these beautiful animals have lost their habitat but I was surprised to learn that many places in South Africa are game reserves now for the very purpose of conservation!

  27. July 5, 2020 / 11:08 am

    Wow, that’s incredible. What an experience. To be so close to such an animal in its natural habitat is awesome. I would love to do a safari and see some of these amazing animals. I’m hoping next year will be my year to visit Africa finally

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 6:53 pm

      I hope you do!!! I think everyone needs to go and experience a part of Africa, if they can!

  28. July 5, 2020 / 11:46 am

    Those cheetahs look AMAZING! (I was in East Africa in 2015 and the African Buffalos creeped me senseless too.. not the friendliest things 😒.)

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 6:53 pm

      Haha you got that right!!!! Can’t wait to go back!

  29. July 5, 2020 / 12:09 pm

    Oh my gosh, this sounds incredible! I had no idea that you could get so close to cheetahs, this sounds like such a bucket list experience!

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 6:57 pm

      It totally is!!!

  30. July 5, 2020 / 1:12 pm

    Tshukudu Lodge sounds like it offers a thrilling experience, laced with enough hint of danger to trigger a heady rush of adrenaline! It was sad to read about baby Ntombi, I hope he is happy in the big den up above. Would you say visitors are generally lucky enough to spot all of the Big 5 during a single stay?

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 6:59 pm

      I would say at Kruger you almost definitely would (we did in only a few hours!). We didn’t elephants, rhino (close though!) or leopards at Tshukudu but we were only out for a short amount of time. I’m sure if we drove around some more we would’ve seen them!

  31. Jasmine
    July 5, 2020 / 6:24 pm

    Wow, this looks incredible! You are so lucky to have been able to do this! I would love to experience this one day!

    • Sarah
      July 5, 2020 / 6:57 pm

      I highly recommend it!! 🙂

  32. July 6, 2020 / 1:12 am

    Can’t believe you managed to get so close to the cheetahs. I love animals but I think I would be scared stiff. Really enjoyed reading this, thank you for it!

    • Sarah
      July 6, 2020 / 7:37 am

      Thank you so much!! I didn’t have time to think about it honestly, it just kind of happened so quickly!! 😂

  33. July 10, 2020 / 6:26 am

    This sounds amazing. I love wildlife encounters 😊

    • Sarah
      July 10, 2020 / 7:58 am

      They’re unlike anything else!

  34. April 25, 2022 / 8:35 pm

    What an INCREDIBLE opportunity! I’m so excited to go to South Africa next year and really enjoyed this post!

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