A nightly guardian

A true and close encounter with nature makes an impact for life.
Many years ago I worked as a volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia. One night one of the volunteers and I was lucky enough to be allowed to sleep out with the animals. We brought our sleeping bags and found a nice, soft spot to sleep. The African night was clear and chilled and the full moon was lighting up the night. We crawled into our sleeping bags with the sound of crickets playing and lions calling to each other with their mighty roars that you could feel more than you could hear. As the lions roars were fading out we could hear a new sound somewhere in the dark. It was a deep and friendly purr. It sounded much like the purr of a cat, except it was ten times louder. It signalized that it had good intentions and that it was very happy about our presence. We could hear the purr circling us to find out who was there and to make sure it was all safe. The purr circled us closer and closer until it was so close that we could see the silhouette of the big animal moving around us. Then the animal decided that the premises were safe enough and came up and greeted us. As it was right next to us we could see the beautiful spotted fur of a cheetah and recognized it as the oldest male cheetah at the sanctuary. He was a dignified old guy, who always had complete control over his many ladies and his big territory. Despite his royal manner, there was no one who loved to cuddle more then him, both with his fellow cheetahs and with the staff of the sanctuary.
After greeting us with a lick on the cheek and a cuddle with his soft head he laid down right next to me. I scratched his back and he purred like a broken coffee maker. He made sure we both got a chance to give him a cuddle and returned the favour by licking our hands and face with his rough, sandpaper tongue. A cheetah's tongue is so rough it makes your skin sore. Eventually we all fell asleep with the sound of the cheetah's purr as our lullaby.
In the middle of the night I woke up. I was looking up on the amazing sky above me which was twinkling with more stars then I have ever seen before. The crickets were still playing their never-ending songs but I could no longer here the purr of the cheetah. I looked around me and saw the big male sitting right next to me with his majestic silhouette against the starry night. He was keeping a watchful eye with the darkness around us. When he saw that I was awake he purred softly and lied down next to me to be cuddled, but he still kept his head raised and listened and watched to make sure we were safe. With this guardian watching over me I fell asleep again.
With the first rays of sun hitting the African sand and the lions starting their morning calls I woke up. As I was letting my eyes get accustomed to the light I could here a soft snoring and I could feel a warm breath on my cheek. The big cat had snuggled up to me and was resting his head on my arm, using it as a pillow. Our great nightly guardian had turned into a cuddly softy again.
Long after returning home from Africa, I can still remember the sound of the loud purring and the feeling of the soft, spotted fur like he was still lying right next to me. If I ever have trouble sleeping, the thought of the protective guardian and the purring lullaby always helps me fall asleep.

N Svartřien

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