Traversing the Great Ruaha

On our third day in Ruaha we decided drive along the Great Ruaha river. From our Mwagusi river camp it took us about 45 minutes to get down to the Great Ruaha river travelling through diverse landscapes.

“Make the rest of your life the best of your life.”~ Unknown

Driving down to the Great Ruaha river along the Mwagusi we found a pair of leopard cubs we had seen two days before. The smallest cub was the most cautious and was still high up in a tree, obviously a busy night before.

“The beauty of Ruaha lies in its vast and unspoilt wilderness. It is natural and wild, the way it should be. It fills your senses so you feel alive. ~ Mike Haworth

First light down near the Great Ruaha river. A female giraffe and her calf were quietly going about their business. They were still very wary of all the sights and sounds around them from the night before, a time when they could lose their advantage.

As you will see in the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, the balloons are busy first thing in the morning. Those wanting to go ballooning needed to get up around 4h30 to get transport to a suitable launch site. The cool temperatures early in the morning provide the perfect temperature differential to get the balloons easily airborne. They normally fly for about an hour and a half before the ground temperatures rise and it gets too hot.

In the early morning it is easy to discern where the balloons are, even if you cannot see them because their burners make a loud roaring sound, unmistakable in the bush! Once they are fired up and the balloon is rising, all is quiet. In the very early morning, the burners create a glow inside the balloon which lights up, creating another worldly sight.

Once down and adventuring along the Great Ruaha river we were looking for a pride of four lionesses which we heard had cubs. When we found them, the lions were out in the open and clearly very hungry. A few impala wandered past on the far sand bank which created some excitement because we thought a hunt was about to begin, but the opportunity evaporated. As soon as lionesses saw their potential prey they went into stealth mode, but the impala never came close enough for a successful attack.

While the lion hunt was unfolding we were visited by a pair of spur-winged lapwings. Red eyes, but wide awake!

This image of one of the four lionesses showed the muscular strength in her legs.

Our wanderings were always eclectic. One minute we were watching lions, the next minute we heard squawks from a nearby tree and there was a juvenile grey kestrel calling for attention and food.

Wildlife seem, better than humans, to understand the need for their offspring to learn to fend for themselves. They progressively wean them off the support, and they teach them all they need to know until they are fully functioning – natural wisdom and respect for the next generation!!!

A panorama of the Great Ruaha river from close to the picnic site at the confluence of the Great Ruaha river and the Mwagusi rivers.

Part of the reason why the three lionesses above the bank were so interested as the small group of impala rams wandered by, was that a female was in the river bed, but could she not see the impala.

One of the aspects about lions which always impresses me is when the opportunity for a hunt is either missed or just disappeared, there never seems to be any recriminations. Instead they reinforce their bonds with each other by head rubbing and licking each other.

By the time we had moved on from the lionesses, it was late morning and starting to get hot and the light was bright with strong contrast. Time to switch gear to high key images. We found a small family herd of Plains zebra on their way down to the river to drink. I liked the baobabs in the background.

“Strip out the colour and see the tones and detail.”~ Mike Haworth

In Ruaha you really get a sense of space – feel you can breathe deeply!

Later that afternoon we found our lionesses again, few kilometres down river. They were still on the look out for a meal which made us wonder how the cubs were getting on. By this time it must have been at least a day since they last saw the cubs.

“Everyone is willing to eat but few are willing to hunt!”

A portrait of one of the lionesses in the fading light of the afternoon. She was lying on the top of the nearest bank of the Great Ruaha river.

For me I can see the strength and wisdom in her face. She is clearly very hungry but alert, patient and not wasting energy.

The evening skies were darkened by storm clouds. The temperature was still warm, so it was balmy. This is a wonderful time to be in the bush when all your senses are enlivened.

” There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.”~ Edouard Manet

For a while we thought we were going to get wet, but the clouds dissipated, casting a mood over the landscape.

“I prefer living in colour.”~ David Hackney

By now it was getting dark and we needed to make our way back to camp which was still some distance away. When you are sitting in the game vehicle you almost have to pinch yourself because your are bathed in the beauty and light in this vast expanse.

When we got back to camp it was dark. After a quick freshen up we all gathered for dinner. This time it was in a different part of the river below the camp. The bonfire was blazing and the paraffin lamps were all around like fairy lights shining on the white river sand. Who said there wasn’t heaven on earth?

“The goal of life is to make your heart beat match the beat of of the universe, to match your nature with nature.”~ Joseph Campbell

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

Have fun, Mike

Wandering along the Mwagusi river

This is the second post from our trip to Ruaha, Tanzania’s second largest National Park after Selous. It is located in the centre of Tanzania and is a photographic gem which is still not well known.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”~Mary Oliver

There are two main rivers flowing through Ruaha, the Great Ruaha river and the Mwagusi river. At this time of the year, mid-November, the Mwagusi river course, although dry, was a particularly beautiful and productive part of the park.

“Along the dry river bed the wildlife gathers seeking life giving water. Be careful not to slaunter. The scene is benign and picturesque but the situation deadly. For tawny killers lie in ambush camouflaged in the grass and sand.”~ Mike Haworth

It was early in the morning on our second day, and we were driving along the Mwagusi river which for most sections was just sand. Early in the morning it is still too cool for raptors to look for thermals to get elevation so they can search for productive hunting areas. This tawny eagle was perched quietly, patiently surveying the area from the bough of a large fallen tree. It was dead quiet, the colours soft and the scene serene.

A bough to change the perspective!!

We found many giraffe on our travels around the park. This mature male was enjoying himself foraging in the tree and his long tongue was grabbing all the most nutritious buds and leaves. Other than the overall size, the ossicones are what distinguishes the male and female from one another. The female giraffe has tufts of hair on the top of her horns, while the males are bald on top, mainly due to fighting. Some males develop calcium deposits on top of their heads, which creates the  illusion of the him having a third horn. The extra weight helps in the head bashing competitions.

The bush is full of surprises. Driving along the river’s edge we found this beehive in the fold of the trunk of a fig tree. You can see the layers of honeycomb. There intriguing realisation is that the wild is bountiful but everything comes at a price.

This pair of yellow baboons were “chilling” in a warm glow of the early morning sun. The lady of the house looked like she had had a busy night!

There is much bird life along the Mwagusi river even though the water was patchy. This little bee-eater was very busy hawking insects around 9h30 in the morning. Needless to say it was warm around 37 degrees centigrade.

Along the river is a bounty of Lala palms. The yellow baboons love playing on them and they serve as a quick escape route from most predators.

At the top of one of the Lala palms was a grey kestrel surveying the surrounding scene.

I like all birds but a have a penchant for raptors, born from my schooldays. We disturbed this grey kestrel which was perched on a palm frond. This kestrel is grey all over with yellow legs and feet and a yellow eye ring and cere.

We found several agamas, all red-headed rock agamas with their colourful bodies and red head displaying to nearby females.

Along the Mwagusi river we were expecting to see lions. Of course, usually the only time we see the lions doing anything is first thing in the morning or at dusk. We were not travelling around the park at night when they are most active. Needless to say this pride of females was lounging on the cool sand of the river bed when we found them. When I see them sleeping like this it makes me wonder what they were doing the night before?! It was only when a few giraffe came down to drink did they pay any attention to their surroundings. There is always one lioness awake and looking around while the others are resting.

These giraffe caught the lions’ attention but nothing came of it. Giraffe appear to be very deliberate animals. They actively use their height to assess their surroundings.

I liked the texture and colour contrast between this red-headed rock agama and the tree bark. Little gems in the bush!

A red-necked spurfowl rumaging around in the underground for nibbles.

A crested francolin rumaging in old elephant dung for seeds.

It was late afternoon and we found a big male leopard in a figtree sprawled out on a large horizontal bough. Not too far away in the same tree we saw this bush hyrax who put its head out of a hollowed out knot in the tree to see what was going on. Needless to say with a leopard close by this hyrax was not going anywhere.

The camp’s logo on the side of our game vehicle – impressive.

Back at camp, while we were downloading our images, we were visited by this collared palm-thrush.

Later that afternoon, further down the river we found several giraffe drinking at one of the few pools of open water. It is clear that the water table is not too far below the surface of the sand even this late in the dry season.

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

A simple scene crossing a broad sand river bed. Not so fast, there is nothing simple about it. There was a multitude of life. Elephants to the left and giraffe to the right. In front of us were a small group of Black faced sandgrouse. Along the edge of the water were hammerkops and sandpipers. And in the impressions in the sand, were printed all the tales of the night’s events.

In winter, the Tamboti tree gets red leaves so I was intrigued to see the Tamarind tree does the same at the end of the dry season.

For the life of me I can not remember the name of this tree which blossomed in late spring. It was a beautiful contrast to the surrounding area. Our guide, Justin told me the name but I cannot remember it.

One of the characteristics of Ruaha is its groves of baobab trees. This creates a magical environment for a myriad of wildlife.

One of the iconic images we were trying to get was a leopard lying in the fork of one of the branches of a baobab. We never found one but did find this male leopard in a well-leafed figtree.

“Whatever you do, look and be quiet. There is much to see. There is even more to understand.”~ Mike Haworth

A large adult male leopard lying comfortably sprawled out on the bough of a large figtree. He was in deep shade and high enough to catch any passing breeze to keep him cool. We spent around an hour waiting for him to come down which we knew he would do as the sun set.

Wildlife photography always has an element of chance in it. We were waiting for this male leopard to descend from the tree but it was getting darker and darker and our camera’s shutter speeds were falling despite pushing up our ISOs. Eventually it got to a point where we were not going to get a pin sharp image of this male if he moved. Sure enough as it was getting dark he got up and began to walk down the bough of the figtree. By now there was no option but to play with slow shutter speeds. We hoped he would descend the tree trunk on our side but he decided to go down the other side of the trunk. So is the way of wildlife photography!

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” ~Henri Cartier-Bresson

That evening back at camp, we gathered down on the riverbed for dinner. The camp staff had created a bonfire and there were lamplights all around. It looked beautiful. The food was warmed on coals buried in the sand. The staff were so hospitable, the food was scrumptious and spiced with animated chatter about our days’ sightings. The evening was cool, the fire was crackling and there was a Scops owl serenading in the background – bliss!!

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

Have fun, Mike

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,