Life in Three Acts, by Carole Howard

Setting: Tanzania.  Photographic safari.

Act I

We were in our jeep, along with a whole lot of other jeeps, watching a cheetah stalk….. something. We didn’t know what it was, but were mesmerized, waiting to see what would happen, hoping for some action.

After some slow-motion ballet-ish moving across the field, the cheetah drifted off. All the other jeeps hung around, presumably hoping the cheetah – or some other predator – would come back. But our guide, who knew a thing or two, said he thought he knew where the cheetah was going. We left the assemblage of vans, hoping we wouldn’t miss the good stuff.

We got to the selected site and only had to wait a little while before the cheetah showed up. We were the only jeep there, with our front row seat. We patiently watched, holding our respective breaths. Maybe we’d see something exciting!

We did.

Act II

The cheetah rocketed out of the tall grass and started chasing two jackals. Just before they reached the safety of their hole, however, the cheetah pounced and started to carry one of them off, wiggling and struggling, by the neck. Within a few steps, the wiggling and struggling stopped. It was over. Poor thing.

Meanwhile, the jackal’s mate emerged from their hole-home, wailing and keening nonstop. Our guide explained that jackals are one of the few species that mate for life. The crying was very anthropomorphic and very sad. And did we hear crying baby jackals too? Immediately, the idea of the cheetah killing the jackal wasn’t exciting anymore. It was tragic. We’d previously been rooting for the cheetah, but our loyalties had been 100% switched. We were now solidly behind the jackal, no longer on the cheetah’s side.

With the sound of the wailing in the background, the cheetah meandered over to a tree where, our guide explained, he would carry his trophy up a ways and make a meal of him.

Oh no.

[Another cheetah, sans jackal.]



The cheetah put the inert jackal down at the foot of the tree. We’ll never know why. And, like a crazy cartoon, off the jackal scampered (that’s really the perfect word). Back to his mate and their hole, into which they both disappeared. Hooray! (We explained to our guide the meaning of the expression “playing possum.”)

We’d seen exactly what we wanted: Action. Tension. Nature being nature. And the good guy winning!

Have you ever witnessed — or been part of —  a 3-act episode of “real life”?   Do tell!

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, which tells another sort of traveler’s tale.


Filed under life, musings, Travel

13 responses to “Life in Three Acts, by Carole Howard

  1. I really liked the ending!!! I’m such a softy!What an experience that must have been for you, Carole!!!

  2. Polly macpherson

    It’s Like it is never over til the fat lady sings…or the last jacket laughs!

  3. Very cool! What a great experience! What a great story!

  4. What an adventure you witnessed! Jennie

  5. Thanks for that story. I love nature shows, but have to turn the channel when I realize that the full force of nature is about to play out with one animal tackling another for food. No African wildlife grocery stores exist. As I read you piece, I knew immediately what was about to happen and my heart sank. It sank even more at your Act II. Needless to say, I now feel the warm tears of joy in my eyes as you described how the wise jackal got away. I know there’s a trip to Africa in the near future for me. I’ve made too many friends there, am going to write about one young man, have made friends with another who owns a wildlife touring company in Kenya. Africa is the only continent I’ve ever been drawn to. More so now that I’ve become an avid animal activist. Thanks again for the story. I know you had a wonderful trip.

    • Thanks so much, Maribeth, for the comment. Funny, but Africa is the continent I’ve been to most. (Well, maybe Europe is first, but they’re close.) I hope you get to go and enjoy witnessing a nature show in real life!

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