Eclectic Mashatu

I spent six days in Mashatu in the middle of February which although just past mid-summer, can be the hottest month in summer. Southern Africa is enduring a major drought, the likes of which has not been experienced for at least 22 years. Thankfully, Mashatu has had some decent rain and the rivers have plenty of water in them. Mashatu can look like a moonscape in the depths of winter when there has been no rain for months. It can also look like the Garden of Eden after the rains where the trees are bursting with verdant green leaves, the grass lush and thick and the yellow devil-thorn flowers carpet the ground.

“There is a magic, a poignancy, a sense of excitement about the bush that is not only gripping, it is addictive. Once bitten by the ‘bush bug’ a person is infected for life. Bush fever is a kind of madness that compels you to return and return – a longing which will seize you by the throat until, you would gladly sell soul for the sight of a dry thorn tree against an empty sky, a herd of wildebeest wheeling under their cloud of dust, or the deep rasping “augh!” of a lion prowling in the night. The veld has a scent all of its own too, a combination of dust and dung and sunshine, a heady fragrance that fills the lungs and intoxicates the blood like strong wine.”

~C. Emily Dibb

Each morning we would rise at 5h15 to be ready for a cup of coffee and a rusk at 6h00 before setting out on our game drive. I took this first image standing in my outside shower at 5h30 in the morning looking east at the dawning of a new day when everything looks, smells and sounds right with the world. It was cool, fresh and the birds were singing – Spurfowl, Hornbills, Turtle Doves and a Woodland Kingfisher.

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I saw more Wildebeest this trip than I have ever seen before. For a change they were more relaxed and allowed me to take a few shots.

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This time of the year the animals are plagued with flies, some of which bite.

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There were plenty of new Wildebeest calves and they were full of the joys of summer, dashing in and out of the herd, having a great time. This was a newly born youngster with part of its umbilical cord still attached.

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The Eland are always skittish, especially the females. This Eland bull knew we were close but he was relaxed. You could see he was an old bull by the large dewlap (Eland’s radiator) and he had substantial hair loss on his body. He also had a healthy crown of auburn coloured hair on his forehead.

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We found this old bull browsing down alongside the Majale river. I took this image to show you the flies which plague these herbivores at this time of the year.We were pestered by these flies but nothing like this Eland bull.

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The end of a wonderful day in the bush. The sky was laden with heavy rain clouds as a storm was building but the sinking sun managed to find a break to show off its African evening colours.

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“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth … the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see.”

~ Edward Abbey

Blue Wildebeest are thriving in Mashatu and there were plenty of calves.

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Late one afternoon, the brewing storm created an unusual light on these Elephants who were quietly feeding. You can see the ground cover had already started to dry out in the intense heat, which was around 40 degrees centigrade most days.

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Another afternoon as storm clouds were brewing, we were driving alongside the Majale river and looked up to the ridge to see a few Giraffe feeding in the falling light. One Giraffe was browsing right on top of the ridge, which made a perfect silhouette against the darkening blue evening sky.

“Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? “

~ Black Elk (Medicine man of the Lakota)

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The next day after the previous evening’s storm,  the air was crystal clear and Mashatu’s wildlife was out in force.

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Having seen how dry Mashatu can get in winter and spring, it is wonderful to see so much water in the rivers. The rivers were not flowing but had big pools of water.

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Some afternoons, Mashatu offers unusual lighting with long shadows. This next image was taken on the bank above the Majale river looking down at the river bend which winds passed the White-fronted Bee-eaters’ nesting bank.

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In the next image, the rays of light were shaped by clouds behind the horizon. I never cease to be bewitched by the spectacular light show in the evenings just around sundowner time. Usually the light show goes on for at least half an hour after the sun has set. The colours become more saturated  15 to 20 minutes after the sun has set below the horizon.

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“Africa is waiting – come!
Since you’ve touched the open sky
And learned to love the rustling grass,
The wild fish-eagles cry.
You’ll always hunger for the bush,
For the lion’s rasping roar,
To camp at last beneath the stars
And to be at peace once more.”

~Extract from C.Emily Dibb’s poem The Call of Africa

A bevy of beauties – of the Kudu kind. Unusually exposed, this small group of female Kudu were standing on an island in the Majale river. They were relaxed and milled around on the island for a few minutes before one by one walking off back into the bush.

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Always wary of the ever-present threat from Crocodiles.

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A summer afternoon view looking east along the Majale river. It is wonderful to see so much water in Mashatu’s rivers. With plenty of water around it does mean that the game is more spread out so you have to work harder to see it but the vistas are superb.

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Stoney ridges and giant Mashatu trees line sections of the Majale river.

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On Sunset hill with friends, toasting the setting sun and a wonderful day.

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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

~Saint Augustine

I am not sure why but I get such a “spark” when I see game down at the river with a backdrop of long deep shadows. The variation in light seems to add perspective, drama and a sense of anticipation.

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A peaceful late afternoon drink was disturbed by an unusual sound from the adjacent bank. All but one of the Impala rams looked around and a few seconds later they all dashed for cover. We never got to see what caused the dash.

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One afternoon, our game guide, Maifala, took us down to the Matabole river just up from the weir. He simply said look there!! We all looked and just couldn’t see what he was looking at.

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There in a small alcove in the river bank, lying in the water with her head in the shade was a female Hyaena fast asleep.

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Although there are plenty of snakes in Mashatu,we seldom see them. Mashatu is known for its pythons, which are usually seen in the Mashatu trees. Our guide, Maifala, spotted a Black Mamba, one of southern Africa’s deadliest snakes, gliding over the stoney ground. The venom of the Black Mamba is extremely potent. Mambas usually deliver about 100-120mg of venom in a single bite – enough to kill 8-14 people, according to EarthTouch.

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Although the Black Mamba is a light beige-brown, it gets its name from the colour of the inside of its mouth which is black. That is the part you do not want to see!! Mambas can move fast and this one was motoring. Black Mambas are reputed to be able to move at speeds up to 11 miles per hour over short distances.

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We saw a few Vervet Monkeys at the same spot on the Majale river each day. This happened to be in the late morning when the light was the right direction.  

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Hanging around with the male Vervet was this youngster who was very inquisitive.

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Even this small beautiful Steenbok was plagued by the small flies.

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“When you’ve acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa
And you’ll not be right again
Till you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know that they’re around you,
Waiting in the dark.”

~Extract from C. Emily-Dibb’s poem The Call of Africa taken from the book, The Conundrum Trees

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

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