Mashatu: wandering through Eden

This is my fourth post from our last trip to Mashatu. This is a private game reserve located in the south eastern corner of Botswana at the confluence of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This part of the world undergoes a phenomenal transformation in the wet season, which is from November until April.

“Nature has hidden lessons for mankind underneath its silent saga. The trees teach us to give without discrimination, the seasons proclaim that time keeps changing for the better and the vastness of the sky bears the amount of love we should hold in our hearts for everyone we come across throughout the day.” ~ Sanchita Pandey

We were fortunate to be able to visit one month before the coronavirus lockdown which closed Mashatu game reserve and the country’s borders. By pure chance our timing was perfect. Heavy rains had just stopped and we were visiting before the magical transform was about take place from its dry barren brown into a ‘garden of Eden’ draped in green with carpets of yellow flowers.

“True, the sun and the wind inspire. But rain has an edge. Who, after all, dreams of dancing in dust? Or kissing in the bright sun?  ” ~ Cynthia Barnett  

On our second day, at first light we left camp to go and explore The sun had not yet risen as we drove around the rock outcrop behind our camp. We often hear a leopard coughing from this outcrop before dawn. There is also a hyaena den close to this outcrop, on the opposite side to the camp. This particular morning we saw a kudu bull standing on top of the outcrop. I was quite surprised as any ‘get away’ would be very difficult. There must have been some very tasty bushes on top of this outcrop to attract this browser.

Sure enough not long after we saw the kudu bull we found this female hyaena on her way back to her den after a night of actively searching for food. Judging from her swollen teats, I presume she was suckling her cubs. Her face was still covered in blood so she must have been feeding earlier on a kill somewhere nearby.

As the sun climbed high in the azure Botswana sky we made our way down to the Majale river. There were still large pools of water in the river but it was no longer flowing bank to bank as it had been days earlier. Knowing how dry this part of the world can be in winter, the water in the river is a beautiful sight.

“Petrichor is that pleasant earth scent that accompanies a storm’s first raindrops. Of course rain itself does not smell. This smell actually comes from the moistening of the ground. Petrichor is a combination of fragrant chemical compounds, some of which are organic oils but mostly of which are from actinobacteria.”~Tim Logan

A male Steenbok lying in the semi-shade. This small antelope has large ears which were turned outward suggesting there were other sounds behind it. The ears rotate horizontally on the side of his head to locate the direction of the sound. This little antelope is a browser and survive the dry winter periods with minimal water as he gets his moisture from the vegetation that he eats. These little antelope are territorial and mark their turf on the ground with their defecation and scent mark bushes from the glands below their eyes.

Warm dawn light washes over the mist laden vlei in the south of the game reserve. It was quiet, still and colourful creating the sense that dawn held her breath for just a moment.

A scout came out of his underground labyrinth to see if it was safe for the rest of the family to come out. This male banded mongoose was on guard. Having seen us he decided the family should stay under ground until we left.

“If I have ever seen magic, has been in Africa.”~ John Hemingway

A young male kudu sitting down in the shade around mid-morning just up from the Majale river. His youth was evident in the partial first twist in his horns. He needed to be alert as he was vulnerable among the bushes near the river.

A family of warthogs. The male at the back watching out for his family with the female and her three semi-grown piglets watching us. The piglets had just been suckling when the parents suddenly realised we were watching them. This was a typical warthog family but they can extend to seven piglets. The presence of lion, leopard, hyaena and cheetahs in Mashatu are likely to trim any large warthog family.

When life throws you a rainy day, play in puddles.”~ Pooh Bear

As we were making our way back to camp for brunch, we found this leopard tortoise enjoying a drink from a puddle of rainwater in the middle of the gravel access road. We stopped and watched his character drink his fill and wander back in the bush undisturbed.

This lioness had her cubs nearby but she saw the big lenses staring at her and reciprocated. This has happened many times with a large prime lens. The lioness must have just seen a large eye and was watching it extremely carefully for any sign of a threat. The size of her irises was small responding to the bright sunlight beyond the shade. Her stare was mesmorising and threatening at the same time. Once she had assessed there was no threat she relaxed and gave a soft grunting sound to call her cubs after which she got up and moved with her cubs for a little more peace and quiet, probably away from the stares.

Two young giraffe sticking together away from the parents. The tufts of hair on their ossicones signify their youth. The one on the right is a few months younger than the one on the left. Difficult to tell what sex they are as their leg positions hide the possible penal bump on the belly, if they were boys.

A bat-eared fox in a threatening posture with its fur fluffed out on its back and tail, and its back arched to make it look bigger. These diminutive foxes feed mainly on insects such as termites, scorpions and spiders preferring beetle larvae. They detect the underground larva with their large highly sensitive ears. Once located they use their paws to dig out their meal.

Steenboks are very vulnerable to most species of predators, from caracals, servals, jackals and leopards. Normally a Steenbok will remain dead still and use concealment as the main form of defense but as the last resort will dash away from the threat. This male Steenbok used the last resort option.

Late afternoon – busy day. This large young male baboon was just ‘chilling’ while the rest of the troop where foraging and “chemering” to each other. His reclined posture looked remarkably human-like.

The stillness of the morning was reflected in the mirrored surface of this large pool of water in the Majale river. A time of abundance.

A group of three female eland standing in front of a wide bent in the Majale river on a partly cloudy morning.

The dominant male in the group of eland. His darkening grey pelage indicates his age. Aging adults tend to lose their hair resulting in the overall colour becoming bluish-grey due to the skin reflecting through the coat. A longer tuft of dark blackish-brown hair covers the forehead of adults and is associated with a gland that secretes a strong, scented substance. The colour of this tuft in adult bulls changes to copper red-brown and becomes bushy with age, giving the appearance of a hairy proboscis known as the rostrum according to Deon Furtsenburg of GeoWild Consult. The clicks of his knee tendons were clearly audible as he walked. These clicks are signals to other males of the his size and fighting ability. They sound like castanets and can be heard a hundred metres away.

Ever stealthy, this young female leopard was lying in the cool dappled shade. It took the “eagle-eyes” of our guide Justice to see her lying under the thick green bush.

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.” ~ Wayne Dyer

This Temmnick’s courser found a patch of soft soil in which to have a dust bath.

This wildebeest bull was vigorously defending this territory when we found him. He was chasing other males away from the females in his territory. He also must have dug his horns into the mud to make himself look bigger. I have seen eland and kudu doing this. It was fascinating to see how hyped up this character was.

Two lion cubs distracted in the midst of their play. Something caught their attention.

As we were driving back to camp after sunset we came across this Mozambique spitting cobra moving down from the rock outcrop toward the road. This cobra is around one metre long when fully grown and is most active at night. This snake’s back is varies in colour from slate to olive or tawny black in colour with some of the scales havimg black-edges. Its underside varies from salmon pink to purple yellowish, and it has black bars across the neck. The ventrals are speckled or edged with brown or black. Ventral scales are the enlarged and transversely elongated scales that extend down the underside of the body from the neck. This cobra is considered one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa. It can spit its venom over three metres and usually at its victim’s eyes. It’s bite causes severe local tissue destruction much like that of a puff adder. Needless to say we just watched this character from a distance.

Sunset over the Majale river. I often find I have to pinch myself when I look at the colour saturated sky. It seems so other worldly. With every evening being so different, I could never grow tired of looking at such beauty.

Wandering around the “garden of Eden” is a humbling experience. The transformation took place without any human intervention. The change was miraculous and reminded me that I have much still to learn from the bush and the community of beings which live in the wild.

“A balmy evening bathed in saturated sunset colours, standing high on the bank above the quietly flowing Majale river. A bitterly cold drink in one hand and spiced cashews in the other. The warmth of friends animated chatter. The sky perfectly reflected off the water’s surface. The musical “queeto-queeto” of the last sandgrouse taking off and making their way home at last light. The male Scops owls starting his “bruuup” calling to his mate on this calm balmy evening. A hint that later that evening the Pearl-spotted owl would start his fluted whistling “tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu”. The perfect end to another intriguing day in Africa with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace.” ~ Mike Haworth

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

Have fun, Mike

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