Mashatu Lions and Leopards

Hi bushlovers!

My brother Jerry and his eldest daughter Sammy and my daughter Lauren and myself spent a wonderful five days in Mashatu last week. You access Mashatu Game Reserve via Pont Drift. It is a five hour drive from Johannesburg, and is the border post between SA and Botswana. The border crossing was easy enough but you need your car registration papers and do not take banned food produce into Botswana.

You cross the Limpopo River at Pont Drift. The river was quite high but passable by vehicle. Actually it is great fun crossing a river with the bow wave being pushed in front of the vehicle. It really sets the mood for the holiday.The weather was sunny and on a few days quite warm in the middle of the day and early afternoon. It is chilly early in the morning and stayed quite chilly throughout the day when the weather was overcast. The light was quite low on occasions, so I was thankful for the awesome low light capabilities of my D4 and D800.

The one truly spectacular feature about Mashatu is the diversity of wildlife you will see. At Eagle’s Nest Lodge we had wonderful staff and our game ranger Maifala was very knowledgable, had incredible eyesight and was good tracker.

With such wildlife diversity, I naturally have many images to share. To simplify I have stuck to simple themes for my next few posts. This post is entitled Lions and Leopards.

I am always fortunate enough to see lions and leopards on a trip to Mashatu. Early one morning, Maifala picked up the tracks of the Leopard in the next image. He tracked this Leopardess for about 20 minutes before we saw her in an open patch among the croton bushes. This Leopardess had two cubs and had made an Impala kill, which was hidden inside a croton bush. This female was keeping guard while one of her cubs fed on the kill.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2240A

This Leopardess was very wary and alert because it was in Lion territory and I gather she had already lost one of her three cubs to a Lion.

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This Leopardess was quite old according to Maifala. If only humans could age so well and be so fit, lean and capable.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2248

The light was quite low as she was lying under a croton bush shielded from the sun. This is where the low light capabilities of the D800 came in very handy It is seldom you will be fortunate enough to be able to get a shot of a Leopard in full sunlight – if you do count your lucky stars. This Leopardess was grooming herself after having fed on the carcass.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2263

Always attentive with ears alert for the slightest sound.

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Those light greeny-blue eyes were beautiful and a little intimidating.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2272A

Only one cub feds on the kill at any one time, unlike Lions where the whole pride piles in after the dominant male has finished. The reason being that Leopards are essentially solitary and do not have back up in the case of a Lion or Hyaena surprise. One cub feeds and the mother and other cub stayed well away until the one  had finished and then it moved away and the next cub came in to feed.

This little cub was tucked deep in a croton bush with the Impala kill, so a telephoto and high ISO were essential.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2287

After feeding this cub hung around the kill for a few minutes licking the blood off his paws. It is useful to have such a long tongue to partially clean its face.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney13 2319

We were also fortunate enough to see the two pride male Lions. They were far away from the rest of the pride out patrolling their territory. Both were large, one with and one without a tracking collar, so I needed to be selective in my shots.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney130052A

We came across these two large males late in the afternoon around 17h00 so the light was starting to fade. It was almost pitch dark by 18h00. They had rested up for the day and were just starting to rouse themselves. I thought the colours of the Mopani leaves changing colour made a wonderful background.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney130084A

The stirring process was very slow, like two teenagers after a late night – very reluctant to get up.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney130136A

Once up they started to move off. We came across these two male about two days later and they had covered a massive distance. Clearly, patrolling their territory was important and done at night.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney130158A

Early one morning, we were looking down one of the main rivers running through Mashatu, the Majali, watching the bird life and baboons coming down to drink. There was still plenty of water in the rivers but the grass had all but died so the grazers were starting to struggle but the browsers were fine.

Again Maifala’s keen eyesight spotted this young Leopard peering through the brush. It had been unseen by any of the wildlife along the river.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney131007

A very interested look. Again a 600mm lens and high ISO were required.

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This Leopard came, surveyed and disappeared without a trace. We drove up on top of the river bank to get a better sighting of it but could not find it at all – vanished.

Mashatu 6-11_Juney131016

As you can see the sightings were good. I will put more images in the Mashatu, Lion and Leopard categories.

In my next post I will put Hyaenas and Jackals. We never saw any Bat-eared Foxes nor did we see the Aardwolf and there is a possibility that many were lost in the flood earlier in the year.

Willem, you mentioned you were off to Mashatu soon. You will love it and the photography will be very rewarding. It is b….y cold on the vehicles early in the morning so take some warm kit that you can take off in layers as it can be quite hot by 15h00.

I hope these images have whetted you appetite. I will post some more images in the next few days.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.

Albert Einstein

Have fun

Mike

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