The group was on safari in the Serengeti when the cheetahs they were watching decided to get a closer look at them.
When you take an African safari, you expect to get up close and personal with the animals. But for a group of animal watchers, their encounter came a little too close for comfort.
American Britton Hayes and two of his friends were watching a group of three cheetah brothers hunt, when one of the animals noticed Hayes’ Land Cruiser and decided to investigate. Before the group knew what to do, the young cheetah jumped inside the vehicle.
“We started to notice the cheetahs became curious of the vehicle,” said Hayes. “But it was too late to drive quickly away or anything like that because you don’t want to startle the animals because that’s when things usually go wrong.”
The group didn’t notice the cheetah in their backseat at first because they were focused on his brother who had jumped on the hood of their car.
“One of the cheetahs hopped onto the hood and was sniffing around, so we were all focused on the cheetah on the hood that was looking around,” said Hayes. “While we were all watching the cheetah in the front, one of the brothers had flanked around the back and hopped in back of the vehicle to try and sniff us and make sure that we weren’t a threat.”
Thankfully, the group’s guide had experience with the animals, and knew exactly what to do.
“Alex (my guide) kept me calm and made sure I never made eye contact nor startled the cheetah,” Hayes said, “allowing the animal to see that it could trust us.”
The guide warned against making eye contact, as it can intimidate the animals. He also told the group to breathe deeply and slowly, and just let the animal do its thing. Once it was done exploring, he said, it should leave them well enough alone.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life while it was happening. I felt like I had to clear my mind of any thoughts because from everything you’re told about predators like that, they can sense fear and any sort of discomfort you’re feeling and they’ll react accordingly,” said Hayes. “I wanted to be as calm and as still as possible to avoid a bad outcome.”
The guide turned out to be right about the cheetahs, and after they were through sniffing out the car, they retreated. The group stayed still as the animals returned to their hunt, but before long found themselves laughing at their luck, unable to believe they had gotten out of the situation so easily.
Now, Hayes says, he feels like he can do anything.
“I was scared to death,” he said, “but I’ve never felt more alive.”