Occasionally, animals take you by surprise and they do something completely unexpected. This was the case during our recent safari in the northern Serengeti – word spread that a cheetah and her sub-adult cub had been spotted in the north, and that the cub had actually jumped onto the bonnet of one of the vehicles to view its surroundings from this somewhat unconventional vantage point. I’d planned to head that way the following day, and just as we were returning to camp after our morning game drive, I noticed a pair of cheetahs moving through the long grass.

We turned and moved ahead of them to watch – it was obvious that they were on the move, and that a hunt could unfold any second. Their path brought them to within a few metres of where we sat, and without warning, the male cheetah veered towards us and sprang onto the bonnet of our land cruiser! Once we’d recovered from the initial shock, we enjoyed the extremely close views and inquisitive looks from this young male as he sniffed, licked and chewed bits of the vehicle that intrigued him.

This isn’t typical cheetah behaviour, and can best be described by saying that, just like humans, their personalities are a combination of boldness, curiosity, and pure playfulness. Cheetah have been observed making use of vehicles as vantage points, especially when hunting across the open and otherwise flat grasslands typical of East Africa, although such close contact is particularly unusual. What will probably happen in this case is that the young male will outgrow his inquisitive nature and stop jumping onto vehicles, and it’s very likely that he’ll remain totally relaxed in their presence. Either way, it was one of those special safari moments that will stay with us all forever!