Over the last few weeks Mashatu has undergone a remarkable and miraculous transformation. The drought that devastated the region for more than a year was violently broken by tremendous widespread rainfall. By now the water has sunk deep into the soil and the seeds which have lain dormant throughout the drought have thrust fresh shoots through the surface. The landscape is now blanketed in green and dotted with the yellow flowers of the devil thorn plant. The Vlei has become an oasis, attracting a number of water birds seldom seen in the area. The plains game have regained their vigour, and the predators are now having to work a little harder for their food.
There have been a host of exceptional sightings, but one which stands out from the rest began when a young female leopard was found walking alongside a riverbank. A squirrel, having spotted her, gave the alarm call of her presence. Squirrels, game birds and antelopes will raise an alarm when a leopard or another potential predator is seen. This not only alerts all other animals to its whereabouts, but also informs the predator that it has been spotted. At this stage most predators will not attempt to hunt as the element of surprise is no longer in their favour.
What followed next was incredible. The young leopard looked up at the squirrel and without hesitation leapt up high in the air, front legs outstretched, and plucked the fretting squirrel from its lofty perch. The leap must have been about 3 to 4 times her body length! The agility of these cats never ceases to amaze us!
Another memorable sighting occurred during a morning game drive when 19 different lions were found! Two lionesses were first found with their 11 cubs, followed by the 2 males that hold their territory over Mashatu. Another 4 lionesses were later also spotted. Historically the lion population of Notugre has always been low, mostly as a result of hunting and persecution pressures outside the reserve’s borders. It is with great pleasure to see that these numbers are recovering.
On another morning three male cheetahs were spotted lying under a tree. After some time one of the three looked up and spotted a wildebeest herd in the distance. Cheetahs have particularly good eyesight. Their fovea is elongated giving a sharp, wide angle view and the dark tear mark helps to reduce the sun’s glare. This assists them in hunting and locating their prey at a long distance. With an expertise gained over many years of hunting, the cheetah slowly raised himself from the ground and stalked towards the wildebeest. Soon he broke into a full-speed sprint straight for the herd which, at this stage, had still not noticed his presence. When they did it was too late for escape, and he managed to knock a young wildebeest foal off its feet. He killed it within a very short time. His brothers, having watched the hunt, soon came to find him to share in his catch.