The landscape at Mashatu, while still dry, is starting to show seasonal changes and we are hopeful the rains will be here soon.
While we wait for the rains, nature always has a plan to keep the ecology of the area in balance. In October as we wait for the rains, the help comes from the Mopane trees.
A deciduous tree, the Mopane sheds most of its leaves during the winter months, leaving the landscape looking barren and inhospitable. In October, new leaves which are a beautiful reddish colour start to sprout in anticipation of the first rains. Within a few days the area is transformed as the leaves change to a stunning luminous yellow-green. Spotting an animal in the newly sprouted Mopane with the sun behind it is a photographer’s dream.
This change is vital to the survival of the animals at Mashatu. Many animals, particularly elephants, enjoy the protein-rich leaves and pods. The young leaves have a higher protein content and are more palatable, but even the dry, fallen leaves have valuable protein and would have played an important role in their diet through the winter months.
Mopane trees have many other uses, providing a home for hole-nesting birds such as hornbills, which favour Mopane as they offer many nesting sites. If you’ve ever parked in an area with Mopane, you will also be familiar with the tiny stingless Mopane bee. While they can be annoying as they flutter around your face, they are harmless and produce a small amount of edible honey. They too favour the hollow trunks of Mopane trees for their nests.
Mopane trees are easy to identify with the most diagnostic feature being the butterfly-shaped leaves. There is no doubt trees are intelligent and to get through the hot months Mopane trees will save water by folding its leaflets together and exposing the smallest surface area toward the sun, thus reducing exposure of the leaf surface.
The Mopane Tree wood is widely used for furniture and fencing because of its strength and durability, which makes it termite resistant. Many of the wooden support structures and the boma fencing at our camps are made from Mopane wood.
Did you know that the design of our Mashatu Euphorbia Villas is inspired by the Mopane tree? Borrowing from nature’s design, the villa’s curves and shapes resemble the pods of Mopane trees. A perfect synergy and celebration of this often overlooked tree that is key to the survival of many of our animals.
by Janet Kleyn