Hers was a tale that struck a chord with the many Samara guests that saw her, and the tens of thousands that read about her in magazines and newspapers worldwide.
Born a wild cheetah in South Africa’s North West province, Sibella’s life nearly ended at the hands of hunters. Mauled by dogs, her tendons ripped off her hind legs and a rope thrust in her mouth, she was thrown in a cage and left to die. Rescued by an NGO, she underwent 5 hours on the operating table to save her life. In need of a safe new home, she was flown to Samara to begin a new chapter. In doing so, she made conservation history, and more was still to come. Successfully raising 19 cubs to adulthood, she overcame the odds to become the most prolific cheetah in the country, an astonishing feat for Africa’s most endangered Big Cat.
My most memorable experience took place in 2012. Sibella had just given birth to what would be her final litter of two cubs. Our General Manager Marnus, my mother Sarah and I had ventured out to track her in the golden light of a blissful Karoo afternoon. We picked up her signal in the burnt orange landscape of the eroded area south of Kondoa mountain. We hopped out of the vehicle and began to walk. A moment later we saw her, emerging from a small green koppie, heading straight towards us. We stopped and waited. She kept her line, walking through dongas and over grassy hills, weaving her way towards her trio of onlookers. Finally, when she was a mere twenty metres away, she stopped and sat in clear view.
Already we marvelled at the beauty of the sighting – a wild cat, so graceful and at ease in her rightful habitat. But then she began to call; a soft, chirruping, magical sound. All of a sudden, two little shapes appeared on the koppie. As we watched, the small cubs, barely a month old, bounded over towards their mother. Cautious at first, they periodically disappeared behind tussocks of grass, raising their little heads to listen out for her encouragement.
They were young enough to retain the characteristic ruff of fur around their necks as well as the dark-coloured body designed for camouflage and protection. We held our breaths. As they reached Sibella, she sat, sphinx-like, regal in posture and beauty, the dying sun casting her a most magnificent golden shade. She seemed to be saying ‘Come, see what I have created. See what you must now protect‘.
Tears welling in our eyes, we watched as this wild cat, once so badly tortured at the hands of man, presented to us her vulnerable progeny, her entire raison-d’être, her most precious wards. It was difficult not to sense a feeling of trust and pride in the remarkable occasion. For a while, the cubs played around her in the dying light, and we breathed the scene in, knowing that these moments can be all too fleeting.
And then she was off, back towards the koppie, babies in tow, leaving an indelible mark on our hearts. Truly my most magical wildlife experience.
Words by Isabelle Tompkins
To celebrate the life of this remarkable cat, we are creating a coffee table book of photographs and memories from Samara friends, staff and guests. We would love to have your input. Please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories and images. Long may Sibella’s legacy live on.
Samara Private Game Reserve is a luxury 5-star destination with a passionate conservation mission set within breathtaking wilderness. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or Instagram, or click here to start planning your stay with us today. A safari for the soul.