To me, being on a safari is so much more than only the hunt for the Big 5. By the way; did you know that this expression is actually a hunting expression, listing the 5 most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot, being Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. Mashatu is not a big 5 reserve as they don’t have Rhino (they neighbour Zimbabwe where poaching is far from under control so they won’t re-introduce it until that situation has improved) nor Buffalo. But I didn’t miss them at all. The reserve has so many other treasures to offer!
Immediately after we started off in the morning we could see that the landscape had gone through some drastic changes.. The trees and shrubs were green!! Almost overnight the leaves on the trees had grown back and little sprigs of grass emerged from the dry soil. What a lovely sight!
Along the way I finally captured the tiny Blue Waxbill! These gorgeously colored little birdies had, on previous trips, always been too quick for me so I was really pleased with this one. Young Impala rams were sparring to test their strength.
Mashatu has a variety of landscapes and besides the marshlands, forests, rocky outcrops and bushveld, it also has vast plains. Ideal habitat for one of the most beautiful cats of Africa. The Cheetah!! It’s, next to the Leopard, always been my favorite cat, although it is still questionable if the Cheetah really is a cat as it doesn’t have retractable claws like all other cats do. Well cat or not, when a call came in through the radio that one of these magnificet creatures was I was really excited! Last year we hadn’t seen them at all. When we arrived at the plains it wasn’t really hard to find as it walked on top of a hill, cleary visible against the sky. Apparently it had just eaten because I’ve seldom seen a Cheetah so fat! 🙂
After the exciting morning game drive we returned for brunch. As usual I was too restless to rest so I wandered around the camp a bit. Mashatu Camp has an area where Lesser Masked Weavers have built their nests in a tree on a small island. The water around that little island is home for a couple of fairly big crocs so I had to keep a respectfull distance to the birds, but still, it was big fun trying to capture the little busy birdies. Scorching hot though as the midday sun burned down on me and there was no shade whatsoever.
During the afternoon gamedrive some more surprises were in store. One of the most amazing things in Africa is the ability of animals to totally blend in with their background. It’s always hard to explain at home that you can drive past a herd of elephants without seeing them. I remember once in Tanzania, we had stopped, drank coffee, walked around and talked in the shade of a gigantic Baobap tree. After half an hour we were ready to leave again and just when we wanted to step into the car, half of the Baobap treetrunk walked away :-). A massive bull Elephant had been standing there all along in the shade of the tree trunk, leaning against the tree. We had been as close as 10m. and hadn’t seen him!! Every animal is perfectly equiped to vanish against the background. The pale Cheetah disappears against the equally pale dry grass of a savannah or plain, the leopard with its spotted fur vanishes underneath the the shadowy roof of a treetop. Lions snooze in the tall dry pale grasses and can’t be seen (also in Tanzania – Ngorongoro Crater – we drove past a patch of grass in the middle of a plain. There was no animal to be seen for miles around. All of a sudden a grass sprig moved and the tiny little head of a Lion cub peeped out. Before we knew it no less than 16 lions stepped out of that small patch of grass :-).
The Black-backed Jackal we found this afternoon was at first hard to see as he searched for food underneath the acacia thorn bushes. His grey fur just seemed another part of the Acacia. Only when he stepped out into the full sun we could figure out what it really was. Also the two lionesses that were preparing for hunt could barely be seen in the fading sunlight. Both pictures I lit the subjects up in post-processing.
Just before the sun disappeared beyond the horizon we made a disturbing find. In the riverbed we discovered an old female Ostrich who was clearly ill. Her feathers were all scruffy and apparently she couldn’t walk anymore. All in all she looked in very bad shape. And in these cases you know that she won’t make it through the night, especially not lying in the riverbed next to a pool of water. All the predators will be out during the night and stop there for a drink of water. But what can you do! With aching heart we left her there and the only thing I could do for her was hope that the inevitable end would come swift and painless…