Sep 092014

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.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Mashatu Game Reserve.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Mashatu Game Reserve.

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.

Leopard (Panthera pardus) in tree at twilight. Mashatu Game Reserve.  Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Botswana.

Leopard (Panthera pardus) in tree at twilight. Mashatu Game Reserve. Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Botswana.

10 Facts About Mashatu and Tuli

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The other giants of Mashatu are the baobabs, elephants, lions, giraffes, elands, ostriches and kori bustards.
Baobab, Kremetart, Kuka, Seboi, Mowana, Shimuwu or Muvhuyu (Adansonia digitata) at sunset. Mashatu Game Reserve.

Baobab, Kremetart, Kuka, Seboi, Mowana, Shimuwu or Muvhuyu (Adansonia digitata) at sunset. Mashatu Game Reserve.

Poetry in Motion

 Botswana  Comments Off
Jul 092014

African Horseback Safaris, Okavango Delta

When conquerors on horseback first arrived in pre-industrial lands, the natives bowed to them as god-like centaurs. It’s this same perception that alllows horse riders in the Okavango Delta to move easily among the wild animals. There is indeed something almost divine about person and beast when they ride in perfect harmony.

There is no other animal that will give its life as willingly if urged by its human rider: knights on horseback careening into spears and stakes; cavalry regiments charging into the fiery jaws of canon fire undeterred. Or one rider and horse riding to bring news of battles lost or won. Dick King riding from Durban to Grahamstown to warn of imminent attack; Joris, Dirck and the “I” who carried the good news from Ghent to Aix, as told by Robert Browning.

On our stay at African Horseback Safaris, which we chose to portray the Okavango icon, the steady pace of my big grey horse Boteti recalled, as we rode hard day after day, of the staccato rhythm of that poem:

African Horseback Safaris, Okavango Delta

African Horseback Safaris, Okavango Delta

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
‘Good speed!’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew …

And so it was that, as we rode, I composed our own poem based not only on Browning’s meter but also copying his rhyming scheme as closely as I could. For maximum effect you can say it aloud:

We stood in our stirrups, Anthea, Chris, Hannah then me;

They cantered, I cantered, we all cantered with glee;

“Follow those lechwes,” said leader John, as we rode through,

Into a reed bed, then into a deep lagoon they slew;

We raced alongside them, no time for a rest,

Till over the floodplain we all galloped abreast.


Across the wide-open Delta, bay Macateer set the pace;

Grey Boteti, white Livingstone and Palamino kept apace;

At a crossing guide Bongwe checked for crocs left and right;

“Can’t stop to drink now, and make your girths tight.”

I checked my mount’s cheek-strap, loosened the reins,

Hitched my boots clear of the water and dove in after black Baines.


On the far bank game scattered as we thundered near,

Giant trees joined sky to water, equally clear;

“I think there’s two giant owls,” called John, “could it be?”

But off they flew from a mangosteen before we could see;

“Take heart, for I know a place that is sublime;

If we ride hard towards Pom Pom there is still time.”


The day was receding, trees lit by a low sun;

But we were keen, crossing leagues, islands one by one;

We rode past tssessebes, kudus and past

Giraffes loping, geese flying, till we came at last

To a wild, lonely place where large herds were at bay;

And with joy, at full speed, we kicked up cascades of spray.


The last sun lit up ilala palms like streetlights and burnished our tack,

While from Pom Pom to Xudum ran a silvery track;

Our mounts pushed through the game; I gave a back glance –

Zebras, I saw following, observed us askance!

We turned back for camp when dusty twilight was gone,

And the keenest among us went galloping on.


On a deep-water crossing John Ellis urged, “Use spur!”

But keep your mounts reined in” – and in line behind her;

The sight of the sodden riders all made us laugh;

Even our hardened guides enjoyed a good chaff;

When all of a sudden a herd of impalas took flight,

And “Gallop,” cried I, “we can head them off to the right!”


Single file through mopane we rode, watch a solitary roan

Or, at a pan, a crocodile looking dead like a stone;

Far off some vultures bent a tree with their weight,

Grisly undertakers of evolutionary fate;

Elephants drinking, filling bellies to the brim,

Trumpet trunks, cymbal ears, dim eyes in teared rim.


All afternoon we rode, counting hoof beats rise and fall;

Hammer sun, anvil ground and urgent babblers t’was all;

Then frisky Baines reared and cocked a keen ear –

We slowed, and into dense combretum thicket did peer,

And there, in our path lay, but ten metres good,

Six lions, crouched, then full ready stood.


“Steadiee!” cried John at front, “and go easily around;

“Don’t run, don’t panic, but make quickly your ground.”

Heart pounding, tight rein, I urged that brave mount of mine;

And later, round the fire, we measured out the wine,

Told and retold and agreed (by common consent)

We toasted our mounts, horses, all heaven sent.

David Bristow

African Horseback Safaris, Okavango Delta

African Horseback Safaris, Okavango Delta