This is my fourth and final post from our recent trip to magical Mashatu Game Reserve. Mashatu is known as the ‘Land of Giants’ because of the many Elephants which live in its environs and the huge Mashatu and Baobab trees which tower over the fauna and flora. I will build up to the giants but I want to start with the little things.
One of the little things you will see frequently in Mashatu is the Tree Squirrel. Often you will hear it chirping first. These are highly territorial little mammals who protest noisily if their territory boundaries are being breached. The game rangers use their chirping as a signal that their might be something worth investigating like a Wild Cat or Python.
Along the Majali river near Mashatu Main camp there is a wonderfully scenic section with high rocky cliffs, lots of Euphorbias and sentinel Baobabs towering on top of the cliffs. Rock Hyraxes love the rocky cliffs along the river. They provide many accessible hiding places when Black Eagles and other predators pass by looking for a snack. These Rock Hyraxes seem to be very comfortable on he ground and in the Mashatu trees. Another place we found them was in a big rock outcrop down near the border post. When it is cold, these little relatives of the Elephant huddle together to keep warm. They can usually be seen warming themselves early in the morning sun on east facing rocks.
Early spring time can be very dry in Mashatu. Nature in her own way signals on the onset of a season of rebirth. One of the signals is the Apple Leaf trees bursting into splays of subtle mauve flowers. These tress are scattered all over the Game Reserve. At this time of the year their feet are carpeted in mauve flowers.
Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
I have named the next not-so-little character ‘Percy’, for obvious reasons. This male Baboon seemed to be contemplating his next move in the romantic part of the evening with little need for modestly or subtlety.
Early one morning while looking for Lion, we came across this pair of Double Banded Coursers. This was an unusual daytime sighting as they are nocturnal. You can see the male, which was standing, was very sleepy. The female was protecting her single egg from the direct sun and passing animals. We often see Temnicks Courser in the early mornings but this Double Banded Courser sighting was special.
I have a penchant for images of animals in a river bed lined with huge trees. There is something peaceful about the scene with the large trees standing as guardians of the river.
In the rocky areas near the rivers look out for Rock Hyraxes, Black Eagles and Klipspingers. This Klipspringer pair had come down off the rocks to browse on the vegetation alongside the river but remained close to the protection of the rocks. They are territorial so were marking their territory on a tree stump using scent from the gland just below the eye, in much the same way as Duiker and Oribis.
Close to where we saw the Cheetah mother and her cub feeding on an Impala they had killed, we saw a small family herd of Kudu. This young female appeared to be a favourite of the Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. It was a cold overcast morning and you can see this Kudu’s coat was slightly fluffed out to improve her insulation. The Kudu seemed to be unfazed by the Cheetah mother because of their size and because she already had a kill. If there had been three hungry adult Cheetah males, this young Kudu would have had to be much more careful.
These Warthog were relaxed with us. Usually you just see their backsides with their tails erected like aerials waving in the air behind them as they are running away from you. It is remarkable how tough their snouts are. Even in this rocky environment they are rummaging in the ground using their snouts. What they lack in beauty they make up in toughness and speed.
Now to the giants with long noses, to use Rudyard Kliping’s expression, and they were close to the ‘Great Green Greasy Limpopo River’ described in the Just So Stories.
This Elephant came down the steep bank and only saw us when it had got onto the river-bed. It was startled but not aggressive.
One afternoon while travelling along the Majali River we came across this female Elephant lying in the sand on a sloping bank leading down to the river-bed. She was happily lying there and spraying herself with dust. Once she had finished her beauty treatment she did something I have never seen an Elephant do before. She crawled on her knees for about 15 metres before getting onto her feet. The sand was soft, but I have never seen an Elephant do that before. It is not uncommon to see a large Elephant descend a steep sandy river bank dragging its hind legs in the sand but kneeling on all fours is unusual because of their weight.
On our last morning, after seeing the Cheetahs and the herd of Kudu, we were treated to what looked to be a stampede by a herd of Elephants. They were clearly agitated and moving fast. We had no idea what caused the distress. Elephants, like most of the game, are not happy when the wind blows hard. It impairs their hearing and smell senses making them more agitated and skittish.
Every photographer wants to get images of different textures, shape and pattern. Elephants are wonderful models for this purpose. This is just one example of many possibilities. It is always tricky to get a good image of Elephant’s eyes with their long eyelashes.
Spring time is a time of renewal in the bush. This year was no exception. There were many young predators and Elephant calves in Mashatu early this spring. The antics of the youngsters can be very amusing because of their unbounded energy and in the case of young Elephants, limited control of their long noses!!!
“It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.”
― John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
Thank you Mashatu for another unforgettable walk on the wild side!!
Seek to understand nature, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be.