Game viewing at Mashatu was phenomenal during the month of July. The average temperatures (high & low) for the month were 22°C and 6 °C. Considered to be cold out here, it is nothing compared to temperatures in all of South Africa. From a photographic point of view, the majority of days were sunny and provided good light for keen photographers.
General game sightings are increasing, and although the animals are hard hit by the winter drought, they are still surviving. With no rains for a couple of months now, migratory herds such as zebra and wildebeest are looking for greener pastures to graze on, and have slowly returned to their usual areas. There has been a noticeable increase in zebra herds across Mashatu. Eland and kudu are still bountiful, as are the ever-present impala. Giraffe, not too affected by the dry conditions, were seen daily. These modern-day dinosaurs of the landscape are often seen feeding on the fresh green growth of leaves, way beyond the reach of any other browser.
Predator sightings are still spectacular at Mashatu. Leopards, lions, spotted and brown hyenas, wild dogs, cheetah, aardwolf and black-back jackal were seen frequently all across the reserve. Three different families of cheetah were frequently seen this month – the famous mother with five cubs (or sub-adults now), the ruling party of three brothers, and a mother with her daughter. A total of 11 different cheetahs have been regularly seen at Mashatu. Lion sightings were just as abundant, with the coalition of two males sighted roaming all over the eastern and southern region of the reserve – patrolling and searching for their pride females of the Central Pride. Now that the Limpopo River is dry, unknown lions – believed to have crossed from South Africa – are crossing over into Botswana. Most of the tracks and signs of these newcomers are those of young lions. An international border to us is only a dry riverbed to these animals.
Three male wild dogs were also viewed, and during the last week of July they were seen successfully hunting an impala, before heading off into the bush. These carnivores are extremely active and are on the move continuously during the day, unlike lions and leopards. Leopard sightings were wide-spread and plentiful this month. The well-known mother with her two (use to be three) cubs nearly lost another offspring to a lioness. A couple of months ago, one of these sub-adults was killed by a lioness while feeding on an impala carcass on the ground. What looked like a carbon copy of the first incident fortunately had a better outcome, as the young leopard saw the approaching lioness and bolted into a nearby tree! Quite a few leopards were seen feeding on impala kills this month, and this was also true for probably the most successful predator in the reserve – the Spotted hyenas. The den along the Majale, near the M1 crossing, is a buzz of activity as most of the pups are playing outside with their older siblings. The hunting success of these super-predators is showcased by the presence of a freshly-killed impala carcass at the den almost every morning!
By far the highlight of the month was the birth of a new litter of lion cubs. We witnessed the mother briefly one morning this month, moving her cubs one-by-one to a new den site. It wasn’t until the end of the month that we finally got to see these new lion faces at Mashatu. And what a sight it was! There are four cubs (three female and one male), believed to be a couple of weeks old. These cubs are the offspring of a lioness from the Central Pride. One of the other pride members is due to give birth soon.
An amazing month at Mashatu indeed!
Here are the sightings statistics for the month as per percentage of days the animals were seen: