We spent a wonderful six days in Mashatu in mid September. Mashatu is a game reserve in the south east of Botswana in the Tuli Block area.
“As one who has often felt this need, and who has found refreshment in wild places, I attest to the recreational value of wilderness.” ~ George Aiken
Mid-September was the start of spring in this part of the world. The evenings were cool but the days hot. It was very dry and there were just a few small pools of water remaining in the Majale river, which is the main river coursing through Mashatu.
Our routine was to get up early and be ready for a cup of coffee and a rusk at 5h30 at the time the first light was starting to paint the eastern sky with pastel tones of blue, apricot and pink. The spurfowl were calling as were the turtle doves. Those of you who have had the opportunity to spend some quiet time listening and watching the bush wake up to a new day will know how serene and transcendent it can be.
“Cherish sunsets, wild creatures, and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth!” ~ Stewart Udall
It was about 6h00 and we were driving along the Majale river searching for anything interesting. From the back of the vehicle one of our guests, Jack, quietly told us to stop as there was a leopard in the tree above us just on our left. There, on the bough of Jackalberry tree,was a young female leopard keenly watching something on the top of the river bank above us.
She decided that what she had spotted was worth investigating. After a good stretch to loosen up, she effortlessly made her way down from her high arboreal lookout.
“The reason that I keep writing is that all my most powerful messages about the fates of wild places that I care about need to have words as well as images.” ~ Galen
This lithe leopardess lightly made her way down the tree onto its roots. This time there were no squirrels, vervets, baboons or spurfowl to give her position away.
Down the tree along a fallen log and onto the sand bank. She climbed up along a gully in the river bank and moved out of sight on top of the bank.
We drove around to get on top of the river bank and only then did we see what had caught her attention. A pair of steenbok. These are small but very alert and agile antelope. Once close enough, the young leopardess made a charge at the steenbok but they were too quick for her and both of them evaded her.
“Life is not measured by the number of breathes we take, but by the moments and places that take our breath away.” ~ Unknown
After her short but unsuccessful steenbok hunt she went back down to the Majale river where she scent marked against a gnarled tree trunk in the rich saturated early morning sunlight.
After marking her territory she crossed the dry river bed to the other bank where she climbed up and walked west along the crest of river bank. Her spotted and rosetted coat blended beautifully with the winter’s fallen leaves laying like a confetti of orange, browns and whites on the river bed and river bank.
Every now then she would stop when she heard something. Just assessing where it was and what it was.
After about half an hour of wandering along the edge of the Majale river she lay down to rest, but even then she perked up whenever she heard something. All of us were dead quiet on the vehicle but we could not hear what she heard. Her ears turned in different directions assessing which way the sound was coming from.
As she wandered through the trees and croton bushes along the river she walked through light and dark patches created by the deep shadows and early morning rays of sunlight.
I have never seen a leopard doing this before. She lay down next to some eland dug and proceeded to rub her head and neck in it. This was presumably to mask her scent
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” ~ Helen Keller
Needless to say the eland dug dirtied her face and neck though she seemed quite pleased with herself.
It was fascinating to watch this independent, confidence and alert predator on her early morning wandering.
Ever the opportunist, this leopardess saw a tree squirrel and made a dash for it. The squirrel darted into this small bush. No matter how much the leopard stretched up into the bush she could not flush out the squirrel. As soon as she was not looking, the squirrel jumped out of the bush and made a lighting dash for the nearly crotons and managed to get away – shaken but unscathed.
After missing her second target of the morning, she wandered on further away from the river looking for something she could catch.
Eventually, thankful for the privilege of spending about an hour with her, we left her in peace to find her meal.
Presumably, she would within a hour or so have gone back to the river to find a large well leafed tree to sleep in where she was cool and away from danger.
“It is in the wild places, where the edge of the earth meets the corners of the sky, the human spirit is fed.” ~ Art Wolfe
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike
Your photographs are always a joy to look at and your description of this encounter is so elegantly phrased.
Mike I so enjoyed this descriptive narrative of the Leopard on the prowl. As I read it I felt that I was part of the scene. So looking forward to experiencing Mashatu next year.
Your exquisite images and story have whetted my appetite for Mashatu, which I’ll visit next year with Andrew next July, along with Mala Mala. Thanks for sharing your experience.