By David Bristow
Mashatu Game Reserve is the largest tract among many private properties that constitute the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Started in the 1890s it was known as the Tuli Block, a marginal farming area created by empire builder Cecil John Rhodes where the Shashe and Limpopo rivers meet, the spot where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana intersect.
This is where we chose to feature our Leopards icon, much to the surprise of many game aficionados. Why not MalaMala, Londolozi, Mombo, South Luangwa… they asked, sometimes incredulously. For various reasons, we’d reply. First because of the grandeur of the landscape there, a place that has been dubbed the “land of giants”.
Also, because it is one of the most magnificent places to photograph wild Africa… and because Mashatu, more than any other safari operator provides opportunities for serious photographers with permanent and mobile hides.
But mainly, we felt, it was a place we knew we could photograph leopards in a completely natural setting, unlike the more popular places where the leopards’ every name and moves are known, and where they are so habituated there is no longer any unknown, no sense of tracking, or adventure left. Or even maybe the chance of not seeing them. Sometimes you have to take a chance and, as is often observed, fortune favours the brave.
10 Facts About Mashatu and Tuli
- Tuli means dust, and the Limpopo River Valley in this area verges on desert, the khaki veld and stony ground suitable only for the toughest of animals and people.
- The Northern Tuli Game Reserve began in the 1960s as the Limshapo Game Reserve, where a variety of private landowners grouped together to ring-fence the area against poachers from South Africa and goat and cattle herders from what was then Rhodesia.
- The reserve’s first warden was Adrian Boshier, one of the most colourful and enigmatic characters the region has ever seen. He lived in a cave even after he married and his first child was born, when his mother-in-law insisted he “get a proper job”. That child is the equally peregrinacious and inspired artist of the African wilds, Bowen Boshier.
- The first humans known to live in the area were San, who have been called the Boskop culture. There are many rock art sites in the valley that can be visited.
- Bantu herders arrived in the area around 1,200 years ago. The Mmamagwa ruins on Mashatu indicate the place where a cattle herding culture first takes root in southern Africa, which led to the evolution of a stone-building culture that dominated the region for centuries, culminating in Great Zimbabwe.
- Mapungubwe National Park, across the Limpopo in South Africa is the most important archaeological site in the area, where trading and metal working reached its peak around 800 years ago.
- The name Mashatu comes from the nyala berry tree Xanthocercis zambesiaca, one of the giants of the reserve. The name means “python tree” in an ancient language, and refers to the fact that the largest specimens – which are massive and can live to 600 or 700 years – have hollow boles where pythons like to lie up.
- During the Anglo Boer War this area was a scene of action in the opening days of hostilities. Fort Tuli was a British outpost that attracted a massing of troops from both sides.
- Bryce’s Store on Mashatu was a staging post for the Zeederberg coach service that linked Pretoria and Bulawayo. During the Anglo Boer War it was flattened by Boer artillery.
- The other giants of Mashatu are the baobabs, elephants, lions, giraffes, elands, ostriches and kori bustards.