March 29 (UPI) — An Oregon man on safari in Africa ended up in a closer-than-expected encounter with a cheetah that jumped into the back seat of the SUV.
A video captured by Peter Heistein on the Grand Ruaha Safari in Tanzania shows safari-goer Britton Hayes sitting still inside the tour vehicle while the cheetah watches him from the seat behind him.
The safari group said their attention had been on a cheetah that jumped on the hood of their vehicle when the second big cat surprised them by jumping into the back seat.
“We started to notice the cheetahs became curious of the vehicle,” Hayes told KOMO. “But it was too late to drive quickly away or anything like that because you don’t want to startle the animals, because that’s when things usually go wrong.”
“One of the cheetahs hopped onto the hood and was sniffing around, so we were all focused on the cheetah on the hood that was looking around,” Hayes said. “While we were all watching the cheetah in the front, one of the brothers had flanked around the back and hopped in back of the vehicle to try and sniff us and make sure that we weren’t a threat.”
Hayes said his safari guide helped him stay safe during the encounter.
“Alex [the guide] kept me calm and made sure I never made eye contact nor startled the cheetah,” Hayes said, “allowing the animal to see that it could trust us.”
“Honestly, it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life while it was happening. I felt like I had to clear my mind of any thoughts because from everything you’re told about predators like that, they can sense fear and any sort of discomfort you’re feeling and they’ll react accordingly,” Hayes said. “I wanted to be as calm and as still as possible to avoid a bad outcome.”
He said the situation resolved itself when the cheetahs wandered off on their own.
“The sheer tension of sitting in a vehicle thinking, ‘I’m going to die,’ and then living. We just, everyone in the car just looked at each other, we paused for 10 seconds as the cheetahs walked away and we couldn’t believe that we got out of the situation, that it was real,” Hayes said.