In Memory of "Skunky" on International Cheetah Day...
Today, as we celebrate the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, it is appropriate to pay tribute to Skunky, the very first cheetah that was introduced to the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve. Skunky, short for Xikankanka, which is the Shangaan word for cheetah was a hand raised, tame female belonging to one of the very first owners on Thornybush, Will Van Duyn.
Skunky, as she was affectionately known used to live with Will at the Chapungu Tented Camp on the Jabulani property in the northern part of the reserve, and although she was free to roam wild, she never had Will far from her sights.
Trevor Jordan, developer of the Thornybush Nature Reserve and co-owner of the River Lodge recalls the story of the day he was showing one of the newly incorporated farms to an investor, in the early 90’s when the reserve was in the initial stages of being assembled. Trevor had at that stage introduced some partly tame, and they were to learn, very naughty elephants that needed homes, as well as a pair of hand raised lions.
Now, thirty years on, and armed with the knowledge of proper conservation practises, the introduction of humanised wild animals would not even be vaguely considered, let alone allowed by the permit officers!
The smartly dressed Johannesburg businessman climbed aboard the game-viewer, ready for a tour of the burgeoning reserve, but news of the tame lion introduction and mischievous elephants had hopped around the gossip circuits and he sceptically questioned Trevor on the legitimacy of the game experience on Thornybush. Infuriated, Trevor assured him that the Thornybush Reserve was authentic, that the animals, whilst habituated, were all wild and he was privileged to have the opportunity to invest in this flourishing reserve!
Trevor steered the old game-viewer through a donga system and up onto an open plain and was at first thrilled to see a herd of wildebeest bounding across the grassland in the direction of his vehicle. Then with a sinking heart, he noticed Skunky was ahead of them racing toward his vehicle. Before he could change direction, Skunky was upon them. With little effort she gracefully leapt onto the passenger seat of the vehicle and began rubbing herself against Trevor, purring loudly, her relief tangible at having been saved from a tormenting herd of wildebeest!
Needless to say, no deal was concluded, and the potential investor went home empty handed, never to return!
Trevor also recounts the story of when a large oriental tour group had arrived at the Thornybush Main Lodge. Whilst silently counting the number of guests, who had lined up, military style in single file patiently waiting to be checked in for their African safari holiday, Trevor suddenly noticed a swiftly moving blur out of the corner of his eye. Skunky emerged and in true cheetah fashion raced at top speed across the car park, and onwards through the reception area. A chorus of Taiwanese words rang out, as the single file became a scattered mess and Skunky skidded to a halt, languidly crawling onto one of the pool loungers to relax for the afternoon.
Skunky eventually rewilded herself completely and disappeared into the Timbavati when Will did not see her for at least two years. She came back briefly to Thornybush with a cub before heading back to the Timbavati, after which she was never seen on Thornybush again. Her memory will live on forever however, by virtue of the game-drive road known as ‘Skunky’ that runs adjacent to the Monwana River tributary, not far from her original home at Chapungu.