2017 was the year that I got to call Mashatu my home. Although I had visited previously, being here full time has given me an opportunity to witness first hand the change of seasons, get to know certain animals and spend more time with the diverse group of guests that visit Mashatu. Here are a few highlights from my year.
- I arrived just in time to photograph the release of a pack of Wild dogs that had been brought up from KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The dogs had been in a boma for three months and it was interesting to see how they hesitated at the open gate. They were eventually all coaxed out by a tasty treat and then astonishingly they ran off directly to water as if they had been there all their life. The dogs then headed off towards the North and spend most of their time across the border in Zimbabwe. They do cross back over to our side from time to time, giving us an opportunity to view them. The last sighting was early November and all seems well with the dogs.
- The Photo Mashatu underground hides re-opened on the 1st March at the end of the wet season. There was still many pools of water around so we were surprised that merely hours after filling the natural pan that is used as a waterhole, herds of elephants came streaming in as if to give us their approval. Another highlight at the hide was a male lion coming in for a drink.
- I had one of my most memorable sightings in March. Six lion cubs were playing with a baby honey badger as their two moms watched from nearby. Just as the honey badger was getting into trouble it’s mother ran in to help. This jolted the two adult lionesses out of their slumber and they rushed into to assist the cubs. Within seconds the lions retreated. Two honey badgers vs. eight lions and the honey badgers won, proving once again that they are definitely the most feared animals in Africa. Two guides managed to capture video footage, which went viral on social media, if you haven’t seen the footage it’s worth watching.
- The first sightings of the female resident leopard named Matoja were recorded – two beautiful cubs, one female and one male. At seven years of age this was her first litter and it was going to be interesting to see how she coped with the cubs.
- We’d only just got used to seeing Matoja with her two adorable cubs when unfortunately a big male leopard caught and killed her male cub. This was not an easy sighting for those that were there, but it is nature’s way and something we as wildlife lovers have to accept. The little female witnessed the encounter and seems to have learnt from it. She’s thriving and has managed to stay well out of dangers way. She’s very relaxed around vehicles and has provided many great sightings throughout the year.
- Other cubs that have entertained guests for months have been the six lion cubs. In June, at only nine months old, their mothers inexplicably abandoned them. Since then the two females have been mating regularly with the resident male who holds the territory and is the father of these six cubs. Despite their inexperience the cubs have done well. Recently there was a reunion and they’ve been spotted back with the adult lionesses a few times.
- Early one morning en-route to the hide myself and the hide guests had one of the most incredible sightings of the year. A guest spotted a Cheetah chasing a civet. This in itself is a great sighting and we had no idea how much more would follow. The civet got away and then we watched as the cheetah caught an impala, but things were about to get more exciting as a female leopard arrived on the scene trailed by black-back jackals. The cheetah didn’t put up a fight and ran off leaving the impala with the leopard that then dragged the carcass about 100 meters up a hill and under a bush.
- By August it was very dry and literally thousands of guineafowls started visiting the hides in the mornings. and afternoons providing great entertainment when the hide was quiet. Elephants visited almost daily in large numbers. Most fascinating was to watch how each herd would have a turn to come in for a drink and shower and then a low rumble would be heard and they would depart, allowing the next group in.
- As the dry season continued many other species started frequenting the hide for a drink including steenbok, duiker and the first ever sighting of Klipspringer at the waterhole. These species are not water dependent indicating just how dry things were this year. My highlight for the month however was a female leopard and her two cubs coming towards the hide early one morning.
- A few light rains brought some much-needed life back to Mashatu. Within hours the Mopani trees started to shoot new leaves. It was also a steamy hot month and the elephants regularly came in for a swim in the afternoons.
- Red-billed Queleas started forming huge flocks and could be seen all over the reserve flying in unison – definitely one of my favourite things to watch in Mashatu.
- Finally the real rains have arrived. There’s nothing quite like watching an African thunderstorm with clouds rolling in, lighting in the distance and the distant rumble of thunder getting closer. There’s the heavy winds and then the downpour. Afterwards all the dust is settled, the animals look washed and clean and you can almost sense their relief. Literally a day or two later everything has already started turning green. It’s a quick and incredible change to witness. I know that very soon there will be carpets of yellow as the tribulus that is wide spread here starts flowering.
What an incredible privilege it has been to spend a year at Mashatu, I am looking forward to see what 2018 brings!
Photographs & text by: Janet Kleyn