Unexpected Destinations for Cheetah
Graceful, stunning, yet deadly, the Cheetah is responsible for making tens of thousands of safari-goers happy over the last few decades. Surely there are very few things that can beat tiny Cheetah cub fluffballs following their mother across the plains, or coalitions of males stalking prey. Whilst Leopards and Lions might draw the crowds, often they stay for the immensely enjoyable sightings of these beautiful cats.
Sadly, Cheetah populations are in freefall across the continent of Africa (as well as in the tiny remnant population of Asiatic Cheetah in northern and central Iran). These cats require plenty of room in which to move, and habitat destruction is a growing and profound threat to Cheetah throughout Africa. This is even more pronounced in areas with a high human population density and historically poor park management, particularly in West and Central Africa. Poaching and disease are also pronounced threats in areas of the continent. Remarkably, however, functional populations of Cheetah do cling on in several unexpected and remote areas of Africa, and we strongly encourage clients to visit these areas to bring attention to these ecosystems.
Many of these areas are poorly-known by many experienced safari-goers, so take a look at Pictus Safaris' list of the most unexpected destinations for Cheetah sightings in Africa - be sure to think about booking a trip to these fabulous places when planning your next safari!
10. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Cheetah Population: c.50
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 518.5 sq/km
Overview: Hwange is, in many senses, far removed from an 'unexpected' safari destination. It is, in fact, one of the most famous reserves in all of Africa, offering fantastic big-game viewing, including dynasties of Lion and vast herds of Bush Elephant. When you also consider the populations of gorgeous antelope (Roan and Sable in particular), and some of the continent's best African Wild Dog viewing, Hwange is a must-visit for any safari enthusiast.
Cheetah, however, are not the species that first comes to mind when one mentions Hwange. Dense woodland habitat is not the most conducive for hunting by speed, and the presence of innumerable larger predators means that Cheetah densities are likely to be naturally low here. However, it is worth noting that Zimbabwe has seen a precipitous drop in Cheetah numbers across the country over recent decades, and it has been suggested that the country's management policy when it comes to big cats has been sorely lacking. Hwange, along with the Save and Bubye Valley conservancies is one of the last remaining locations where Cheetah sightings can be reasonably expected - make sure you visit whilst this lasts!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visits Hwange on our 'Land of the Lycaon' small-group safari in September 2022, available for just £3,495 for 11 nights.
9. Kafue National Park, Zambia
Cheetah Population: c.65
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 403.4 sq/km
Overview: Like Hwange, Kafue is a sensational destination for all kinds of wildlife. The dense woodland at the centre of the park is prime territory for Leopard and Wild Dog, and the indescribably beautiful Busanga Plains are home to prides of Lion and a remarkable array of birdlife. Offering a truly wild and off-the-beaten-track holiday, Kafue is a gem of a safari destination.
Cheetah are not well-suited to much of Kafue, but the Busanga Plains are almost tailormade for these speedy cats. With Cheetah almost entirely absent from the rest of Zambia, this northern corner of Kafue is one of the very few places in the country where you may be lucky enough to stumble across these spotted beauties. For now, the population seems to be stable, so we would highly recommend getting out to this wonderful destination as soon as possible!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offer a trail-blazing 20-night 'Zambia - In Depth' small-group safari, taking in Kafue as well as South Luangwa, North Luangwa, Kasanka and Bangweulu, in October 2022.
8. Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
Cheetah Population: c.20
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 352.3 sq/km
Overview: Uganda is, understandably, famed for its primate-viewing. Tracking Eastern Gorillas in the mountains of Bwindi, or Chimpanzees on the forest floor of Kibale National Park, is truly the experience of a lifetime, and nobody could blame visitors for neglecting other areas of the country. For those who do venture away from the primate trail, the usual stop is the impressive Queen Elizabeth National Park, famed for the hippo-dense Kazinga Channel and the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
What many visitors don't realise is that Uganda can offer true savannah wilderness. Situated flush on the northern border with South Sudan, Kidepo Valley is one of the best safari destinations that many people have never heard of. A true dry-country reserve, with inhabitants including Savanna Buffalo, Lesser Kudu, Bush Elephant, Leopard and Lion, the most surprising residents are probably the 20 or so Cheetah that roam the plains of the Narus Valley. This population roams this border region, crossing to and from the neighbouring Kidepo Game Reserve in South Sudan, and recent anecdotal evidence suggests the population is growing, with cubs spotted in 2018 and 2019 - we highly recommend a visit.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Kidepo Valley, as well as Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Murchison Falls, on our eight-night 'Undiscovered Uganda' small-group safari in January 2022.
7. Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
Cheetah Population: 4
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 172.8 sq/km
Overview: A truly beautiful country, Malawi is certainly not the most in-demand safari destination in Africa, although we believe that may be changing very soon. Extensive conservation efforts by Malawi's government, in partnership with the excellent African Parks, has seen several reserves restored to former glories. Liwonde, Majete and Nkhotakota have all seen multiple translocations, including re-populations of Black Rhino, Lion, Bush Elephant and Cheetah. In 2019, two cheetah returned to Majete from South Africa, and the population has since doubled to four individuals. Park staff usually have a very good idea of where the Cheetah are spending their time, so sightings are not uncommon.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Majete on our nine-night 'Magical Malawi' small-group safari in July 2022.
6. Liwonde National Park, Malawi
Cheetah Population: c.20
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 27.4 sq/km
Overview: Even better for Cheetah sightings than Majete must be the stunning Liwonde National Park. With around 20 individuals currently roaming the park, formed from a founding population of four in 2017, Liwonde is a must-visit for any Cheetah enthusiast. The park has also seen re-introductions of Lion and a number of other special residents, building on an already-impressive offering focussed on viewing Bush Elephants. Malawi truly packs a punch for a country of its size, and Liwonde is a huge part of this.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Liwonde on our nine-night 'Magical Malawi' small-group safari in July 2022.
5. Luengue-Luiana National Park, Angola
Cheetah Population: c.150
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 149.7 sq/km
Overview: Luengue-Luiana is a treasure trove just waiting to be explored. Situated in the far south-east of Angola, an area off-limits for decades as a result of civil war. Highly inaccessible, it was until recently unclear whether any wildlife had survived this instability, but excellent work by Panthera in the last decade has revealed a remarkably intact ecosystem. Whilst Lion are only just hanging on, Leopard and African Wild Dog seem to have survived in impressive numbers, and Panthera staff have reported multiple sightings of Cheetah (including with cubs!) in this remote and special area.
The potential of this area is largely untapped, and nobody truly knows what else we may find in this incredible area. This is, without doubt, Angola's biggest hidden secret, and any opportunity to explore Luengue-Luiana should be seized with both hands.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris do not currently operate in Luengue-Luiana. However, we are keen to offer an optional extension to this reserve following our 'Uncharted Namibia' tour in 2023.
4. Zakouma National Park, Chad
Cheetah Population: c.10
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 333.3 sq/km
Overview: What is there to say about Zakouma that hasn't already been said? Possibly the finest safari destination on the continent, littered with incredible sights, this is a must-visit. Lion, Leopard and Cheetah roam this special reserve, which is also home to Africa's largest herd of Bush Elephant, the most northerly herd of Black Rhino in Africa and probably the best birding on the continent.
A recent extensive camera-trapping programme in Zakouma revealed the presence of around ten Cheetah in the reserve, although there are likely to be many more coming into the park from time to time, perhaps even from as far afield as the northern reaches of the Central African Republic. To see Cheetah in such an unusual and beautiful locale is, quite simply, an experience that should be treasured for a lifetime.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offer a budget 'Greatest Show on Earth' tour to Zakouma, with nine nights available for £2,995 in March 2022.
3. Aledeghi Plains, Ethiopia
Cheetah Population: c.20
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 408.5 sq/km
Overview: Ethiopia is a country of extraordinary diversity, offering species as diverse as African Wild Ass, Lion and White-Eared Kob. Stunning landscapes abound, friendly people are easily found and the food is fantastic. Cheetah, however, are not commonly associated with Ethiopia, despite being found along the southern border with Kenya, all the way east to the border with Somalia, and north into Yangudi Rassa. They are always present at low densities here and the only place they are observed with any regularity is the open savanna of Aledeghi.
Aledeghi is, like much of Ethiopia, overrun by rampant pastoralism during the day. In daylight hours, visitors can expect to see Beisa Oryx, Gerenuk and Grevy's Zebra, but little else. During the hours of darkness, however, wildlife reclaims Aledeghi, with sightings of Aardvark, Aardwolf, African Golden Wolf and more fairly easily achieved - even Serval and Caracal can be seen! Perhaps most impressively, Cheetah, Lion and Leopard still persist here, and all three can occasionally be located with the careful use of a spotlight and a thermal monocular. It boggles the mind that one can theoretically land four of the 'Big Five', plus Cheetah and Wild Dog, in Ethiopia to this day.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will soon release dates for a 2022 tour to Ethiopia - be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place!
2. Iona National Park, Angola
Cheetah Population: c.30
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 506.7 sq/km
Overview: One of African Parks' latest conquests, Iona National Park is another hidden jewel in the wilderness of Angola. Far in the south-west of the country, Iona is a fascinating ecosystem with several unique species of flora, as well as desert-adapted birdlife and mammals to boot. Alongside the more common Springbok and Gemsbok, Iona also offers shore-based viewing of rare cetaceans including Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. Maybe even more remarkable is the small population of Cheetah that survive here, in a dry and harsh climate, and are seen by park staff on occasion.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Iona on our 13-night 'Angola Adventure' in September 2022.
1. Pendjari National Park, Benin
Cheetah Population: c.25
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 110.2 sq/km
Overview: Pendjari is a Pictus Safaris favourite - and with good reason! A delightful, compact reserve on the border between Benin and Burkina Faso, this is quite simply the finest safari destination in West Africa. Obliging herds of Bush Elephant and Savanna Buffalo dot the savanna, and visitors can expect to see the largest population of West African Lions still in existence. Game-viewing in the park is centred on the series of waterholes throughout the reserve, including the iconic 'Mare Bali', and this is where guests have the best chance of seeing the jewel in the crown of Pendjari - the tiny remaining population of Cheetah.
This population roams throughout the WAP complex, extending into Burkina Faso and Niger, so sightings are far from guaranteed - but any time you do spend with these resilient and magnificent cats should be treated as the greatest privilege.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will visit Pendjari on our 'The Jewel of West Africa' tour in January 2022.
Which of these destinations would you love to visit most? Have you been to any of them before? Let us know in the comments!