Mashatu Lions and Leopards

This is the second post from our recent trip to Mashatu in mid-September. It was early spring and very dry. The herbivores were still in surprisingly good condition probably because of the exceptional rains in the early part of 2014. This post shows a few images from our numerous Lion and Leopard sightings which we were privileged to experience. We were fortunate enough to see a variety of predators every day and not just one Leopard  but a few each time we went out.

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Lions are impressive predators but they are most active at night when they have a significant hunting advantage over their herbivore prey. By the time the sun is rising and warming up, these feared predators invariably flop over and fall asleep, often in ultra relaxed positions with heaving chests and fully bellies. Lionesses with cubs have a more difficult time and sometimes can be seen hunting in the heat of the day.

Early in the morning of the first day, well down the Majale river in a section with high sand banks and reeds on top of those sand banks, we found two Lionesses. One looked as she if was just about to give birth while the other stayed close as protection. The next image is of the guarding Lioness. She was in sleek condition and kept her gaze firmly on us.

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It must have been a bird or squirrel which caught her attention but she looked up and I loved the way the light caught her eye. There was a Swainson’s Spurfowl standing close by making one hell of an irritating noise, a sound I have never heard a Swainsons make before. This Lioness completely disregarded the noisy Spurfowl.

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On a separate day, we came across another Lioness with three cubs. They were feeding on an Impala carcass in the reeds so there was little opportunity to shoot any images until this cub came out to lie on the cool sand and look down on the river from his elevated sandbank position. That fat tummy showed how much Impala he had eaten.

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Lions are prone to doing very little when you see them during the day so you have to be patient and wait until the large male gets up or something catches his attention.

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The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.

 – Augustine of Hippo

That regal stare looking down his noise at the object of his disturbance.

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This male was one of a coalition of two who rule Mashatu. We did not see the other male who must have been out on border patrol or looking in one some of his females.

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“There is language going on out there- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language -and music- of the wild.”
Boyd Norton, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning

These images do not come close to revealing the sheer size and power of these magnificent predators. When they roar you can feel in in your chest.

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This large male decided he needed some peace and eventually got up to go and lie in quieter, thicker bush. Lions’ blondish coats blend in superbly with the winter grass.

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This trip was nicknamed the “Sleeping Leopard”. We did not get to see any full grown adults and in most cases the young Leopards were sleeping in the shade on a large overhanging branch of a Mashatu or Jackalberry tree. The next three images are of a young Leopard lying in a small opening part way up a massive Mashatu tree. This youngster was clearly independent and successful as it had an Impala dangling from a branch further up the tree.

“If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it”.

– Jay Maisel

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Later that day at around five in the evening, we found this young leopard at the base of a Mashatu tree. He had come down from his slumber and was quietly looking around when something caught his attention behind our vehicle. With focused intensity he stalked towards his target. It turned out to be a squirrel. This young Leopard did just what Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s Lakadema did – it raced up, down and around the surrounding bushes trying to catch this squirrel. The result: squirrel – one,  leopard – zero, onlookers – awed by this young Leopard’s athleticism.

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Photographing Leopards up in a tree during the day is always tricky. There is huge light contrast and the Leopards, sensibly, lie in the shade.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Plato

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Every now and then the young Leopards are so fast asleep they do not wake up when the late afternoon sun creeps under the overhanging branches and that is when the photographer’s patience is rewarded.

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“There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness. In a civilization which requires most lives to be passed amid inordinate dissonance, pressure and intrusion, the chance of retiring now and then to the quietude and privacy of sylvan haunts becomes for some people a psychic necessity. The preservation of a few samples of undeveloped territory is one of the most clamant issues before us today. Just a few more years of hesitation and the only trace of that wilderness which has exerted such a fundamental influence in molding American character will lie in the musty pages of pioneer books…To avoid this catastrophe demands immediate action”.   This quote applies equally to Africa!!!!!!!!!!!!

 – Robert Marshall, co-founder, The Wilderness Society

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun

Mike

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