Ruaha in isolated central Tanzania

It must have been in 2014 that I saw the National Geographic wildlife video called Lion Battle Zone. This documentary focused on several different lion prides in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. The lion-buffalo and lion-lion interaction caught my imagination. I was fascinated by the landscapes and scenery too. This became one of my want-to-go-to wild places.

” Jobs fill your pockets but adventures fill your soul.”~ Jaime Lyn

I told a number of people of my desire to go to Ruaha and what had spurred my imagination. Finally in 2018, Andrew Beck from Wild Eye put a trip together in November 2018 to spend seven days in Ruaha. This was a place with names like the Mwagusi river, the Great Ruaha river, the Njaa, Bushbuck and Baobab prides which caught my imagination. Reality can be much better than imagination in these situations.

After spending the night in Dar es Salaam (Dar) we took an almost two hour charter flight directly west of ‘Dar’ to Ruaha. This is the second largest National Park in Tanzania. It is much less travelled than Selous or Serengeti. For me this was one of its key attractions.

“Fill your life with adventures not things. Have stories to tell not things to show.”~Unknown

In 2017 there were an estimated just over 20,000 wild lions in 26 countries in Africa and their numbers were reported to be dropping precipitously. According to the Ruaha Carnivore project across the continent, Africa’s large carnivores are facing an uncertain future. Lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs have all disappeared from 80 – 90 percent of their original range. Both the lion and the cheetah are now classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with as few as 23,000 and 10,000 individuals remaining in the wild respectively. While the African wild dogg is Endangered, with merely 6,600 estimated adults remaining.


Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park is a vital stronghold for these keystone species. The park holds over 10 percent of the world’s remaining lions, as well as the third largest population of African wild dogs. It is also home to one of just four large cheetah populations remaining in East Africa.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” ~Ernest Hemingway

We were fortunate to stay at the Mwagusi river camp. This was an authentic bush camp located on the banks of the Mwagusi river. The setting is idyllic and the camp is the perfect blend of isolated bush camp with superb food and wonderful hospitality. The next image is the view up the Mwagusi river from my banda. Mwagusi Camp’s rooms, known as bandas, are spacious tented rooms with a concrete floor encased within a large reed-and-thatch building – very comfortable way out in the bush.

In the area along the Mwagusi river close to camp there were groves of baobab trees. This for me was one of the iconic characteristics of Ruaha. In southern Africa we usually only see isolated baobabs, never large groves of them.

Although very dry, the landscapes and biomes were varied ranging from riverine forests, to groves of baobabs, to open grasslands like the Little Serengeti, to wide open rivers such as the Great Ruaha river. The Mwagusi river was lined with Sausage trees, Figtrees, IIala palms and Tamarind trees to name a few.

In our first afternoon in Ruaha we were fortunate to find two leopard cubs. One was very small and very shy and stayed deep in the bush around a small granite outcrop which made decent photography difficult. The second cub crossed the adjacent Mwagusi dry river bed and found a partially eaten bushbuck carcass.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”~Bill Bryson

The leopard cub was very wary and looked up at the slightest sound. The cub was feeding in a bed of dry autumnal coloured leaves which provided an interesting background.

We purposefully went to Ruaha in mid November which was the end of the dry season so that we would improve our chances of good predator sightings.

After spending an hour or so with the leopard cubs the light was fading so we made our way back toward camp. Our guide Justin told us that they had heard lions close to the camp the night before so there was a good chance we might find them resting close to camp along the river bed.

We found two adult females and one male in the twilight. The females were very affectionate toward one another. One was in season and the other not, so the male paid close attention to the female in season and rarely left her side.

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”~Karen Blixen

This male was using the flehmen grimace where he stretched out his neck, curled back his upper lip exposing his front teeth drew the scent of his female across his Jacobson’s organ which is located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth.

The colour of the sky in the evening was sublime. In mid-November, the rain clouds were building for the big rains and everything in the bush was holding its breath for the onset of the rains after the dry season.

This was our introduction to Ruaha and our first afternoon in this wild place. So far it had met all my expectations and aligned with all my romantic notions of the the bush. It was going to be a good trip!

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” T.E. Lawrence

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

Have fun, Mike

Mashatu’s spring landscapes

This is the last post from my trip to Mashatu in late October 2018. In this post I want to show you the varied landscapes you are likely to see while travelling around Mashatu. This is a private game reserve and all visitors are driven around in Mashatu game vehicles by Mashatu guides.

“The best dreams happen when you are wide awake.”~ unknown

There are three aspects of this game reserve which make it especially appealing for a wildlife photographer. Firstly, there is a wide variety of mammals and birds to see, but you will not see buffalo and rhino. Secondly, the guides will take you off road to get those special sightings and thirdly, the terrain, rivers and different biomes add many interesting perspectives.

“Landscapes even when their general type is similar, are capable of as many expressions as the same type of face, and, without our being able fully to tell why, affect our spirits as we look at them with as many moods and meanings.”~ William Hurrell Mallock

Mashatu also undergoes a radical transformation from winter to summer. In winter it cools down especially at night though the days are warm. It is dry as the last major rain falls in April. The flora progressively looks drier and the colours turn to browns, reds and yellows. By contrast , summer is very hot day and night and the rains usually start in November and carry on until March or April . The flora blooms and the reserve turns into a garden of Eden which is a verdant green and the rivers have plenty of water in them. This creates fascinating differences in mammal and bird behaviour.

Two ostrich pairs had, between them, around 14 chicks of different ages.

The magnificent male lion who dominates Mashatu – for now!

On the southern border of Mashatu close to the border post is a large outcrop of broken granite and sandstone which is home to rock dassies, leopards and klipspringers. The occasional black eagle is also seen cruising over the overcrop in search of dassies for dinner.

“Photography is a story I fail to put into words.”~Destin Sparks

Driving down one of the numerous sand river tributaries in search of lions and leopards.

Mashatu has four cheetah groups. Three females with cubs of different ages and a coalition of three adult males.

One of the many hills from which to look out over the plains. These spots are ideal for a morning coffee or sundowners while watching the sun illuminate a blaze of colour across the evening sky.

“The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”~Annie Leibovitz

Looking at one of the stoney ridges in Mashatu. This shows you just how dry it gets during winter and spring.

A family herd of elephants were digging in the sand of the Limpopo river for water. A pair of impala males were hanging around waiting for the elephants sate their thirst so they could get a chance for a drink of fresh water.

The water table is not too far below the surface of the apparently dry Limpopo river. Within a few feet the elephants are able to find water which is clean, being filtered by the sand.

“Photography is a love affair with life.”~Charlie Waite

The last remaining pools of water along the Limpopo river. The water was stagnant so the elephants usually sought out underground filtered water.

A typical scene looking west and watching the sunset with a sundowner in hand.

Travelling south back towards Rock camp, we passed a large marsh area which was dry and not the waterlogged marshland it had been in previous years. The dam wall broke a few years ago and it has been very dry since.

One of the more unusual areas of Mashatu to visit is Mmagwa Hill to see Rhodes Baobab and look down on the Motloutse river. Mmagwa was one of the satellite settlements of the the legendary Mapungubwe Dynasty.

We climbed up the rugged Mmagwa Hill in the late afternoon to see the sunset from this wonderful vantage point.

Growing on top of Mmagwa Hill is a lone baobab inscribed with Cecil John Rhodes’ initials. The story told is that Rhodes once stood here, envisioning his dream of a railway from Cape Town to Cairo.

As the sunsets and it starts to get dark, we can hear a lone hyaena whopping in the valley below and decide it is time to break the magical spell created by the sunset and make our way down the rocky path in the last light.

“You can speak with spiritual eloquence, pray in public, and maintain a holy appearance… but it is your behaviour that will reveal your true character.”~Unknown

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

Have fun, Mike

Merry 2018 Christmas

Another year is drawing to a close. Christmas is a time when the world slows down and a spirit of goodwill prevails. It is a time of great expectation for children and for adults a time of gratefulness for family and friends.

It is a time of giving where laughter and fun, colourful wrapping paper and blinking lights with bright baubles on the Christmas tree. It is the best reason in the world to get together with family and friends. It is also a time when we send greetings to friends and family near and far.

I wish you a Merry Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas I wish you peace, joy and goodwill at this time.

“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.” ~Gladys Taber

“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.” ~Peg Brachen

“Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.” ~B.C. Forbes

“Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance—each beautiful, unique, and gone too soon.”~Deborah Whipp

No matter how you spend these last few days of the year. My wish for you is that they are filled with joy, health and happiness!

Christmas is a time for us to to look beyond our preoccupations of life which are focused on biology, economics and psychology and join the world of wonder and gratefulness.

Wishing you peace and joy this festive season!

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

Have fun ,


Eclectic Mashatu spring

This is the sixth post from my Mashatu trip in late October. This post offers a gallery of some of the diverse mammal sightings we were privileged to have seen during the six days we were in Mashatu.

“Wild animals, like wild places, are invaluable to us precisely because they are not us. They are uncompromisingly different. The paths they follow, the impulses that guide them, are of other orders. The seal’s holding gaze, before it flukes to push another tunnel through the sea, the hare’s run, the hawk’s high gyres : such things are wild. Seeing them, you are made briefly aware of a world at work around and beside our own, a world operating in patterns and purposes that you do not share. These are creatures, you realise that live by voices inaudible to you.”
~ Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

This post only shows the mammals seen in October. At this time it is mid-spring so it is very hot during the day and very dry as this part of the world has not had any rain since April.

An adult male steenbok lying in the shade of a small Shepherd’s tree.

A young Rock dassie looking down at us from his rock outcrop near Rock Camp .

An even younger Rock dassie – not sure of what to make of us on the road below.

Two impala ewes and one sub-adult male impala drinking from the water hole in from of Rock Camp.

A group of four teenage baboons looking for trouble.

Two adult female baboons, one with a very hungry baby. Both were walking in a troop which was advancing through an area next to the Majale river.

“We cannot navigate and place ourselves only with maps that make the landscape dream-proof, impervious to the imagination. Such maps – and the road-map is first among them – encourage the elimination of wonder from our relationship with the world. And once wonder has been chased from our thinking about the land, then we are lost.”
~ Robert Macfarlane

A pair of black-backed jackals trying to keep the vultures at bay while feeding on a elephant calf carcass.

A magnificent young male eland who was already developing a thick, strong neck and impressive dewlap.

A pair of adult Bat-eared foxes. The female was not so sure about us. They were lying in front of their den.

A male warthog having some fun in the waterhole in front of Rock Camp. He would dig out areas of mud and then go and lie in it and then roll about.

“Everything you can imagine, nature has already created.”
~ Albert Einstein

The dominant resident male lion in Mashatu. Regal and relatively unscarred.

In the large rock outcrop behind Rock Camp resides a pair of Klipspringers with a youngster. This was the adult male.

A female giraffe with her youngster close by. A little further on we found two lionesses, we wondered what would have transpired in the next hour or two.

A solitary older eland bull. His coat was starting to darken with age but his dewlap was still relatively small as was the tan fringe on his forehead. 

“In the hopes of reaching the moon, men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.
~Albert Schweitzer

One of a family of three young male cheetahs.

Unusual to find a female steenbok out in the open but it was early morning so was still cool.

An old eland bull came down to drink from the waterhole in front of Rock Camp in the middle of the day. He had a fully developed dewlap and impressive tan fringe on his forehead.

A female klipspringer in her element.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
~Henry David Thoreau

A late morning procession along the Majale river. The last elephant continually looked around to keep an eye on us.

A cheetah mother walking to find shade with her sub-adult son.

A tree squirrel drinking from the bird bath at Rock Camp.

A vervet monkey watching all the goings on around Rock Camp.

“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, and quiet enough to pay attention to the story.”
~Linda Hogan

Two young warthogs play fighting in the mud in the waterhole in front of Rock Camp.

A wily Hammerkop was standing close to the fighting warthogs, waiting for insects to be disturbed by all the activity.

Sometimes the activity got a little too boisterous for the opportunistic hammerkop.

Spooked by dark wings and everything scattered off the elephant carcass.

A magnificent pair of adult kudu bulls stopping to assess if we were a threat or not.

“We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do.”
~Barbara Ward

A young leopard relaxing in the early morning shade of a large Mashatu tree.

A female steenbok foraging next to a large Shepherd’s tree in the rich light of the early morning.

The dominant male lion getting up to move into deeper shade as the morning sun rose.

“At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough.”
~Toni Morrison

A young male leopard guarding an impala kill which had been dragged up into a Mashatu tree.

A female vervet monkey suckling her baby near the bird bath at Rock Camp.

“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

An procession of elephants in the late morning. The light was so bright, a black and white treatment was required.

A silhouetted klipspringer with a characteristic pose standing on tiptoes on the rocks.

“There is a quietness that comes over you in the bush. Once your chatter quietens the symphony of the wild will envelope you. When you look not with preconceived ideas but allow awareness of what is around you to seep in, then you begin to see. We are sensual beings and the wild will fill your sensory cup to over flowing.” ~ Mike Haworth

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

Have fun,


Mashatu’s cheetah families

This is the fourth post from my last trip to Mashatu Game Reserve in the south eastern section of Botswana called the Tuli Block. The eastern section up to and including Redshield on its south western border has been declared a game reserve, known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NOTUGRE), of which Mashatu is a significant part. NOTUGRE has the Tuli circle as its northern border, the Shashe river as its eastern border, the Limpopo river as its southern border and the Moutloutse river as its western border. It was late October so it was hot and the first good rains had still to fall.

“This is a place which will flood your senses, lift your soul and will tease your intellect. Its diversity will intrigue you and its predators will excite you. Travelling along meandering river beds lined with giants or creeping through croton groves builds expectations of what could be just around the corner.”~ Mike Haworth

Mashatu is a small unique part of Botswana. Unique because of its varied geology and landscapes. It also has three main seasonal rivers which flow through it during the summer rainfall period. These are the Majale, Pitsani and Matabole rivers. They are dry for most of the year but flow strongly during good rains. Mashatu is especially well-known for its predators, which range from lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyaenas, wild cats, Black-backed jackals, Bat-eared foxes, aardwolf, genets and civits.

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to the lives of others.”~ Wendell Berry

Mashatu has four cheetah groupings. One is a three male coalition, the second is a female cheetah with three sub-adult male cubs,  another female with two younger cubs around six months old  and a third female with two small cubs possibly three months old. What makes it especially impressive is that these cheetah females rear their cubs in an area teeming with predators such as lions, leopards, hyaenas and jackals.

“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought with ardor and attended to with diligence.”~ Abigail Adams

Cheetahs are diurnal and  hunt during the day when most of the nocturnal predators are asleep. The black spots on their tan coats help provide camouflage. Cheetahs have a distinctive black “tear stripes” down from their eyes to their months on either side of their face. The tear stripe is thought to reduce the glare during the day.


In late October when its is particularly hot and there is little shade in the open areas, the Shepherd trees provide valuable respite from the intense sun.

Further away from the rivers, the landscape is dry and quite barren in spring. This gives the cheetahs plenty of room to use their competitive advantage to hunt steenbok and impala. The Cheetah’s long thick tail has spots, which turn into rings and at the end is tipped with white. Half way down the tail it flattens and this acts as an aerodynamic rudder at high speeds. The cheetah also does not have retractable claws

The three sub-adult male cubs were feisty and often tackled each other in play fighting.

The play fighting is a critical part of their development where they learn to tackle and fight their prey.

It was interesting to see two male cubs gang up against the third. This was just playing and the third cub being picked on did not hold back and gave as good as he got.

All the playing took place in the shade of a Shepherd tree even early in the morning. We were waiting for them to play out in the open sunny area  around them but they never did.

This particular morning we went out early  and were on the vehicle and moving out of camp by 5h45 just because it got so hot around 10h00. We drove back where we had left the cheetah mother with her three sub-adult cubs the evening before. Cheetahs do not move around at night if they can help it as the nocturnal predators are active at that time. I like the next image as the cheetah mother was passive and unfazed by her boisterous cubs fighting around her at around 6h30 in the morning.

Although there was much play, as soon as their mother got up they all sat up and started looking around. It was early in the morning so there was a chance that some nocturnal predators were still making their way back to their dens. Cheetah females are usually solitary when they have not got cubs.

The second cheetah mother with her two approximately six month old cubs. They were lying in a very rocky side of a low hill overlooking the Majale river. Their stony bed did not seem to bother them one bit. The area in front of these cheetahs adjacent to the Majale river was a large open area, a perfect kill zone for a cheetah. It was remarkable how well camouflaged these cheetahs were in the shade in this stoney area.

“I gaze upon a female cheetah with wonder. I see strength, form and tenacity. I see independence, resourcefulness and a creature that does not waste. I see keen senses and maternal nurturing. I am looking at the fastest land mammal with eye watering acceleration. I am also seeing them disappear from the precious earth.”~ Mike Haworth

When the adult female was lying on the stones in the previous image we did not see that she had quite a large wound on her left shoulder. It did not seem to worry her too much and she did not limp when she walked.

Cheetahs have good eye sight and are looking around for signals from other animals and birds whether danger was approaching in the form of other predators or opportunities for hunting were coming. Cheetahs are thought to be able to see detail up to five kilometres away. Usually a cheetah will stalk to within 50 metres of its prey before accelerating to speeds of 100kms per hour within three seconds and reaching top speeds of 120kms per hour for short bursts. The cheetah uses its speed and momentum to knock over its prey, after which it wrestles its prey until it can get a throat grip to suffocate it.

It is heartening to see cheetahs thriving in Mashatu. According to the African Wildlife Foundation there are approximately 6,674 adult cheetahs remaining in the wild.

“Be curious, not judgmental”~ Walt Whitman

On our last morning we found the third cheetah mother with her three small cubs. We found them in the saga grove feeding on an impala which their mother had killed for them. The cubs were hungry and tucked in but were dead quiet. They has no visibility on any approaching threats so often stopped looked up and listened.

Cheetah are usually born in litters which vary from three to five, and more is isolated cases.  After two to three weeks the cubs begin to walk but are vulnerable to predators while their mother hunts. In the first few weeks the cubs are dark grey with a long grey-white mantle of hair on their backs and necks. This colouring provides effective camouflage and begins to disappear at around three months of age.

The cheetah is the only big cat in the feline family that cannot roar because it does not have a floating Hyoid bone in its neck.  An article in the Journal of Anatomy, showed that the tetrapod hyoid apparatus provides the skeletal scaffolding supporting the tongue, upper vocal tract and larynx, and thus forms the core of the vocal production system. Hyoid anatomy in mammals is consistent in terms of the number and general shape of segments, and the muscles connecting them. Five cat species (lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard) have the Epihyoideum which is an elastic ligament, whereas in all other species of the Felidae, the epihyal is completely ossified. It is  hypothesized that these differences in hyoid structure are correlated with differences in the species’ vocal repertoires: those felids with an elastic epihyoid are able to roar but not to purr, while species with a completely ossified hyoid are able to purr but not to roar. (  Cheetahs also vocalize by making a unique bird-like sound called a “chirrup” when they are excited or calling their young cubs.

“Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.” ~ Stewart Udall

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

Have fun,


Mashatu foxes, cats and jackals

It was late spring in Mashatu in October and it was hot and dry.  The first good rains had yet to fall. The wildlife was pairing up for what looked like preparation for the breeding season. We saw numerous pairs of Bat-eared foxes and Black-backed jackals, and in the twilight, Wild cats.

“The best things in life aren’t things.”~ Art Buchwald

What was particularly heartening was that we found numerous pairs of Bat-eared foxes. We have not seen Bat-eared foxes since 2011. The general speculation was that many of the Bat-eared fox families drowned in their den at night when the Limpopo river flooded its banks in a massive flood in early 2012. The miracle of nature, if left alone, it will slowly rebuild itself. All the Bat-eared foxes we saw were in pairs. They were very wary and so they should be of humans!

The male Bat-eared foxes frequently moved away from their den perhaps as a decoy.

The Bat-eared fox females never seemed to venture far from their dens, preferring to hunker down or dive into the den.

One of the intriguing aspects about photographing wildlife and wild birds is that you can spend many hours trying to get a decent image of a particular animal or bird with not avail. Then out of then blue one particular animal or bird poses beautifully completely unperturbed by you. These are treasured moments when you get an insight into that animal’s life and its behaviour, if only for a brief period..

This Black-backed jackal female lay down in a hollow in the road where the sand must have been soft and cool and she relished it.

We must have spent about fifteen minutes watching her just sunbathing in the early morning light as the sun was beginning to warm up.

At first light one morning on our way out of camp we found this female Black-backed jackal tending to her pups. 

She had kept them out of harms way in a small drainage pipe under the road.

“Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins
to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to raise it to its true value.
To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will to live.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

Not 200 metres away was a hyaena den. Needless to say any one of the hyaenas would have happily  taken a jackal pup as a meal.

The jackal den was effective and the female was an attentive mother. The pups were still nursing and we were very fortunate to get a glimpse of them when she called them out of their confined den.

Bat-eared foxes are fairly common throughout the drier regions of Southern and Eastern Africa, where they are most often seen foraging at night or in the early morning in warmer months and during the day when the weather turns colder.

Bat eared foxes dig their dens to provide shelter for their young from high temperatures and predators. They eat small invertebrates such as ants, termites, spiders, scorpions and crickets but will also eat small birds, mammals and reptiles, and even desert truffle if the opportunity arises.

In the late afternoon, the crepuscular and nocturnal wildlife becomes more active. We saw quite a few African wildcats but they were very skittish.

This was the only African wildcat which stayed put long enough to get a photograph. Somewhat ambitiously, the wildcat moved off to the right through the thicket as a Swainson’s spurfowl  wandered past and the wildcat thought it had an opportunity for an early meal. Unfortunately the wildcat missed the spurfowl so dinner would be later.

Large-spotted genet. This not particularly good image was taken on our way back to camp one evening after the sun had set. The Large-spotted species is clearly distinguished because it is bigger than the Small-spotted genet and it has a black tip to its tail. The Small-spotted genet has a white tip to its tail and has more distinct black and white coat markings.

“If you look at the creation of the earth, you’ll see that all the forces of physics combined to create an ebb and flow that keeps everything running in a continuous, harmonious circle of life.”
~ Amy Leigh Mercree

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

Have fun,


A fallen elephant calf

It was early in the morning in Mashatu game reserve. We had been driving for about an hour. The sun was rising and it was warming up. We were driving along the Majale river in a section we had seen a large elephant herd walk through the afternoon before. By chance we stumbled upon a baby elephant carcass. Our guide, Justice, suggested that this calf must have been still-born and was probably born to one of the females in the herd we has seen the afternoon before. The fact that there were no elephants around was a tell-tale sign of what may have happened the day before.

“There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.”~Gilbert K. Chesterton

This scene was in an open area with bushes around it and a large Mashatu tree adjacent, casting deep shadow over most of the area. There were two pairs of black-backed jackals around the carcass which had already be partly eaten.

The jackals had to assert their dominance over the squadrons of vultures which were arriving.

“Learn a little patience. You never know what might be around the corner.”~Chris d’Lacey

It was both interesting and amusing to watch what must have been over 50 vultures, white-backed and Cape species, flying in and out of nowhere. Before we found the carcass, we did not see any vultures in the air. We watched them arriving stacked like planes above Heathrow airport. Each vulture approached the scene differently. Some came in conventionally on finals in an orderly manner. Others tucked in their wings and came spiralling down from great height. Some came in “hot” and over shot the runway and had to fly around. The vultures have excellent eyesight and must watch each other from great distances in the sky. They are also capable of flying great distances each day.

Most of the vultures which arrived were white-backed and the odd Cape vulture joined the fray.

“Rest and be thankful.” ~ William Wordsworth

By the look of it all the flying and fighting around the carcass got too much. Some of the vultures chose to wait in the periphery while the jackals were having their fill.

The jackals were very wary while feeding, looking beyond the vultures for possible (arriving) hyaenas and lions.

The jackals would clear space for themselves to feed on the carcass for a while and eventually the mob of vultures would crowd in on the jackals.

“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”~ William Burchell

Sometimes the jackals and vultures gave each other a fright and everyone scattered with leaves, dust and feathers flying.

The White-backed vulture is a large bird but smaller than a Cape vulture.  Despite their size and numbers, the jackals would take the vultures on for position at the carcass.

It did not happen often but there were brief spells when the jackals had the carcass to themselves. Each jackal would eat quickly then look up to ensure that a hyaena or lion was not about to spoil the party.

Inevitably the number of vultures arriving would signal to both hyaenas and lions that there was food around which could be stolen.

The Cape vulture is noticeably bigger than its White-backed cousin. It is also more aggressive.

This next image show that the jackals did not have breakfast all their own way and a single jackal would be chased off the carcass by the mass of vultures.

Once there were three or four jackals they won back the carcass but there was also rivalry between the pairs of jackals.

“Always be careful of where you run to. When the going gets tough, take it easy and slow down, else you venture into the den of lions.” ~ Michael Bassey Johnson

With all the noise of the vultures it must have been difficult for the jackals to hear any approaching predators so they frequently looked up in between snatching pieces of meat off the carcass.

Peace would return for a few minutes while the jackals tucked into the carcass but inevitably the vultures would start pressing. The odd bold vulturine soul would try to fly in but the jackals soon sorted out that tactic,

“Be ever vigilant but never suspicious.”~Old English proverb

The vultures were aggressive to each other with numerous spats for dominance. Surprisingly, in what appeared to  be aggressive fights I did not see any vulture draw blood on another vulture.

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” ~Aldo Leopold

Once the jackals had their fill they left the scene. The risk of staying around was too high once the incoming vultures had signalled to all the predators in the area that there was a carcass available.

Once the vultures get stuck in they can strip a carcass very quickly.  Despite all the noise and activity, we did not see one other predator come in to challenge the vultures and jackals.

The vultures were coming into the feeding scene and in doing so would cast a shadow as they flew in. The large shadow cast by the incoming vulture caused the jackals to look up and see what was going on.

Although unfortunate that the elephant calf had died, it was fascinating to watch nature’s actors perform in this scene. It was spell binding and we hardly noticed the two hours which flew by. Usually I have seen lions or hyaenas dominate the scene but never seen this to and fro interaction between jackals and vultures. We never got back to this scene again but I have no doubt that there was nothing left after two or three days after natures’ waste disposal teams of hyaena, jackals and vultures had finished.

“If you are intelligent, if you are alert, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.” ~ Osho

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

Have fun,