While driving along a road in Eswatini, a park official found himself stuck in some unusual traffic. An iconic wild cat — considered locally extinct for 42 years — was walking along the road in front of him.
Park Warden Sonnyboy Mtsetfwa spotted the “rare” cheetah while driving through Mlawula Nature Reserve on Saturday, Sept. 16, according to a news release shared with McClatchy News by Thulani Methula, the director of parks at the Eswatini National Trust Commission.
Photos show the cheetah walking along a dirt road ahead of a white car. It appears to look around as it walks. In one photo, the feline almost seems like it’s looking at the car.
“When the Mlawula Nature Reserve was established in 1976, the cheetah was one species known not to exist in the country,” the release said. A breeding pair of cheetahs were reintroduced to the park in 1981 but “were said to have not established a territory in the country.”
Eswatini’s last known cheetah sighting was in “late 1981,” park officials said. The reintroduction was perceived as a failure.
The cheetah rediscovered by Mtsetfwa is believed to be part of a family living in the park and related to the reintroduced breeding pair, the release said.
“We are in the process of validating that by setting more camera traps within the range of the sighting,” nature officials said.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animal. These “slender” cats can reach 45 mph in “just 2.5 seconds” and “can reach top speeds of 60 to 70 mph,” according to the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
These iconic big cats are found “widely but sparsely across Africa,” Eswatini officials said. In eastern Africa, “cheetahs likely only exist in 6% of their former range.”
Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a small country in southern Africa. It borders Mozambique to the east and South Africa to the south, west and north.
The Mlawula Nature Reserve is near the Eswatini-Mozambique border.