Mashatu wonder

We spent a family week in Mashatu in mid-July. This and the next two posts will show some of the images from the few glorious days we spent in Mashatu Nature Reserve in the south east of Botswana in the Tuli Block area.

“For the 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world. Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine”.

~Janine M. Benyus

There are three main rivers flowing through Mashatu Nature Reserve, the Majale, Matabole and Pitsani. We often find animals in these river beds. In winter it is normally bone dry but the rains came late this year with good rains in April. This resulted in large pools of water remaining in along the river in July, which is when it is completely dry. Normally in winter the elephants will dig into the river bed to find water which in turn helps all the other animals and birds. The animals often congregate in the river  bed looking for water. During the day it was warm but not hot and it was chilly at night.

Anyone who has been to Mashatu will recognize this iconic Baobab above the banks of the Majale river. It is a youngster and has many centuries still to grow.

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In the early morning light we found a large troop of Chacma baboons. They are very talkative and you can hear the troop “chemering” or chatting away to each other as come down from their tree top bedroom way up in the Mashatu trees. They climb to the upper parts of these massive tree to get away from predators at night. It was early morning so the angle of the light was low which enabled us to take some backlighting shots. This female had a youngster hanging underneath her.

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One of the spritely teenagers dancing in the dust in the early morning light.

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This female baboon was warming herself in the early morning sun and felt the need for a good scratch!

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The troop we came across had many females with youngsters. The mothers are very attentive and the small babies do not leave their side.

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“In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth”.

~John Milton

Further down the river, our guide Maifala, who has been  guiding in Mashatu for the last fifteen years, knows the area like the back of his hand. He weaved the vehicle through the croton forest until eventually we came out at the edge of the river. There were two female lions resting in the early morning sun lying in luxuriant grass on the bank above the river.

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The two females obviously needed a break from the “kids”. One female was quietly grooming herself while the other was “out for the count”. That is a relative term when you talk about lions. Often they look fast asleep but the sound of a twig or branch cracking close by will wake them in an instant.

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On the far side of the river bank (to the females)  was another troop of baboons who were making sure that everyone in the neighbourhood knew that there were lions in the area. The baboon  parading on the far side of the river bank, at the top of a steep bank, safe from harms way looked very funny. He would stomp around barking and jumping up and down on his front legs – though not very intimidating.

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The troop leader would bark then throw mud clogs down the bank. The baboons made a real racket ensuring that the whole world knew that they had seen the predators.

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Both lionesses had cubs. They were very active, no wonder the females need a break. Cuteness can be hard work!!

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“The indescribable innocence of and beneficence of Nature,–of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter,–such health, such cheer, they afford forever!”

~Henry David Thoreau

The females had tucked these youngsters out of sight in a croton thicket. We managed to get into the thicket and they came out to play on a dead log in a small patch of open ground.

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They were very playful and there is always one cub who is more inquisitive than the rest.

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Not far from the lion cubs was this Steenbok foraging in a open piece of ground. They normally move around in pairs so the female must have been somewhere close by, but we just did not see her. Steenbok eat vegetation close to ground level and will also eat roots and tubers which they dig out with their sharp hooves.

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At night most of the elephants seem to walk to higher ground and in the early mornings the family groups walk back down along well worn game trails to the rivers to feed on the lush vegetation and sate their thirst. These herds tend to walk in single file along the paths which is always exciting because we position the vehicle well ahead of them and they  walk up to, and past us. They kept an eye on us but seem very relaxed.  The procession was quiet and peaceful. It is quite humbling to have  herd of such large animals all within a few metres of you, walk past in peace.

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It is always a privilege to get close to these wonderfully intelligence creatures. One cannot but sense the the “knowingness” behind those auburn eyes.

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This family of Kudu were wandering along the Majale river bed. We did not see the family bull, just some of the females and a few youngsters. Those big ears are like radar scanners picking up every sound.

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Further upstream the Majale we found three Kudu bulls which were browsing on the bushes as they wandered along.

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You could see all three bulls were in prime condition. Adult bulls have two and a half twists in their spiral horns. I wonder what would happen when the came across females.

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For such large antelope these Kudu bulls were very fast and could easily jump what I thought were quite wide gullies. These browsers still had plenty of vegetation to eat even in winter.

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We stopped to watch a herd of impala crossing the river bed. Although there are plenty of Impala around you never know what you might see. This young male stopped to have a look at us. His age is given away by his short straight horns which will grow to be substantial and have one major twist in them when he is an adult.

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Baboons and Impala are often found together as the Impala eat the fallen fruit and flowers which the baboons drop when feeding the in the Mashatu and other trees. Despite the very stoney river bed this baboon had no trouble running fast across the riverbed.

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This was a big but young male warthog. He was wandering around foraging on his own. Much like pigs they use their snout and tusks to help them dig out roots and tubers during the dry season. He looked very confident but stuck to the open areas so he did not get surprised by a predator.

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“Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be
still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of
words
I want to be one with the blossoms
and birds”.

~Edgar A. Guest

I just liked this image of a Fork-tailed Drongo perched on a jutting branch with an elephant in the background. This little character was hawking insects disturbed by the elephants.

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A pair of tree squirrels sunning themselves in the winter morning sun. They also groom each other which helps disperse their common scent. Tree squirrels are highly territorial.

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It was quite remarkable to see these little tree squirrels spreadeagled on a steeply sloping tree trunk. These squirrels were very alert and would often chirp when they sensed danger from either the ground or the air.

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The ubiquitous and inevitable Lilac-breasted Roller. I can never resist taking a shot of these beautifully colored birds.This one was hawking insects from its perch.

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The Lilac-breasted Roller is even more striking in flight.

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At the end of our first day we found the cheetah mum and her four (almost adult) cubs. It was getting quite dark and thankfully my trusty Nikon had excellent low light capability.

“To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long…”

~John Moffitt

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This group of four Cheetahs were hunting along Mashatu’s M1. They were hunting Impala.

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The Cheetah mum was the lead hunter with her four youngsters as backup.

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By the time they found a herd of Impala and started their chase it was too dark, and my shutter speeds were too low. It was the most incredible sound to hear this herd of Impala snorting and dashing across the stoney ground to escape the Cheetahs. The Impala all got away – this time.

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At last light along the M1 as it is called in Mashatu. This is the road that leads from the border post to Mashatu Main Camp. This is the time we normally stop and have sundowners to enjoy the setting sun and the spectacularly colorful show signaling the end of another day in Africa.

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“If there is any wisdom running through my life now, in my walking on this earth, it came from listening in the Great Silence to the stones, trees, space, the wild animals, to the pulse of all life as my heartbeat”.

~Vijali Hamilton

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

Have fun,

Mike

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