I was privileged enough to go to Mashatu in mid-February for a few days. At this time of the year in Southern Africa the weather can be quite variable. Usually very hot daytime temperature and big blue skies mixed with thunderstorms. The thunderstorms are great because anyone who has been out on a game vehicle when a major cumulus nimbus storm is brewing is in for a show. The power of the light and sound show is humbling. You get a first hand sense of the enormity and power of nature.
“We have a calling: a need to be close to Nature, where she may cleanse our souls and wash away the stresses of yesterday. It is emotional recompense for the cost of living.”
~ Fennel Hudson
On our first morning game drive, we found this magnificent male Lion who is the dominant male in this part of Mashatu. I loved the colours of his male’s mane and he looked more like a lover than a fighter as he had few scars on his face.
He was with his Lioness who was on heat. Our guide Maifala told us they had been mating for the previous few days.
The wind was blowing quite hard as it was the early build up to a major storm later than day. This male walked out from behind a Boscia foetida “stink Shepherds tree” to find a cooler resting place. I liked the way his mane was blown flat by the strong wind. He went deep into a croton thicket about 50 metres away to get some shade and peace.
His Lioness continued to lie in the limited shade under the “stink Shepherd’s tree”.
It is interesting to watch these Lions when they are resting. They appear to be fast asleep until a sound or smell catches their attention.
Later that afternoon we found the male and his Lioness in a similar place to where we left them in the morning. The male was lying some distance from the Lioness. He was being plagued by small flies and as Lions do tried to bite them.
This male had a cut right next to the tear duct area of his eye which seemed to be worrying him. He would lick his paw and them rub that part of his paw across his eye.
This was one large confident male Lion.
“Strength is seen on the outside but built on the inside.”
A yawn after a “snoozy” day. The size and intact structure of his canines suggest he is in his youthful prime.
I liked the way his massive male Lion placed his left paw on top of his right one. This pose disguised the contained aggression latent in this dominant male.
He looked straight at us as he was getting up. My large lens must have looked like an eye to this Lion and this caught his attention, but amazingly he does not associate the people and the “big eye” on the vehicle with potential food – thankfully.
“Knowledge is like a lion; it cannot be gently embraced.”
~South African proverb
The male began to walk towards the Majale river in the late afternoon. The side-on image showed the size and muscular profile of this magnificent male.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
From a distance, his Lioness was watching his every move from her cool, lush resting place. The light was starting to dim as the storm clouds were building.
Eventually this Lioness followed the male down towards the river to drink at the end of what had been a hot day with temperatures around 40 degrees centigrade.
She kept her eye on the male at all times.
Even after many days of frequent mating, this male was still attracted by his Lioness. A noise caught his attention while he stood at the top of the Majale river bank looking down at her as she was drinking from the river.
“All nature’s creatures join to express nature’s purpose. Somewhere in their mounting and mating, rutting and butting is the very secret of nature itself.”
We did not follow the pair down into the river but rather stayed on top of the bank looking down. The reflection of the sky gave the water in the stoney river bed a vibrant blue colour.
The male eventually joined his lioness at the water. Every time the male walked behind the Lioness she would whirl around and give him a “paw slap” as she obviously wanted to drink in peace.
“You can flirt with mother nature but don’t ever think she is you chick”
On another occasion, we found a few of the youngsters which the dominant male had kicked out. This young male knew his place and valued his life so moved out of the dominant male’s territory. This young male has the makings of being a large, well built adult in a few years.
One of the young Lionesses who had moved away with the young male had been bitten by something and was licking the bite area. I took this image to show the spinal flexibility of this young Lioness.
The next image shows four of the five youngsters who had moved away after the dominant male take-over. They were lying in the shade to get some respite for the already intense morning heat. These youngsters were quite capable of hunting and feeding themselves.
“A young outcast will often feel that there is something wrong with himself, but as he gets older, grows more confident in who he is, he will adapt, he will begin to feel that there is something wrong with everyone else.”
― Criss Jami
Another of Mashatu’s cats, the Cheetah. This was one of the coalition of three males in the area. They have been the dominant Cheetah coalition for an extended period.
You can see that these males were quite old and had lived a rugged life.
The three males were doing very little on the two occasions we saw them other than trying to keep cool and sleeping.
The other more secretive cat which you are likely to see in Mashatu is the Leopard. Mashatu is well-known for its Leopard sightings. This young female must have woken up in the late afternoon after lying up in the cool of a large tree the whole day. She was walking upstream along the Majale river below the Euphorbia covered cliffs.
The light was low in the shady cliffs in the late afternoon while this young Leopardess was scent marking her territory.
“You are what you love, not what loves you. ”
― Charlie Kaufman
She also had a good rub against the rough bark.
After scenting marking she proceeded up the river stopping every few steps to take in all the scent messages.
On our last afternoon, we were lucky enough to see this young female Leopard lying astride a large tree branch above the Majale river close to the area we had found the male Lion and his Lioness a few days earlier.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”
When we first found her she was breathing very heavily and seemed to take quite a while to recover. It was hot but something else must have happened which we did not see.
As the light faded and it began to cool down she seemed to perk up. This was an iconic sighting of a Leopard resting on the bough of a large hanging branch.
In mid-summer it is a “hit and miss” when its comes to Leopard sightings because there is lots of vegetation and the game is more dispersed as there is more water around.
“There’s an exact moment for leaping into the lives of wild animals. You have to feel their lives first, how they fit the world around them. It’s like the beat of music. Their eyes, the sounds they make, their head, movements, their feet and their whole body, the closeness of things around them – all this and more make up the way they perceive and adjust to their world.”
― Richard O’Barry
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.