Leopards

 

Photograph of the Leopard chapter opening spread from the book called African Icons

Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Leopards. Mashatu Game Reserve. Botswana.

Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations…”
William Burchell, hunter and explorer {Travels in Africa}

Land of Dust and Giants

Leopards. There are two varieties this side of the Limpopo, according to legendary bushveld raconteur Oom Schalk Lourens. The way to tell them apart says Oom Schalk (the most engaging story teller who ever walked the literary pages of the region) is to count the spots.

Oom Schalk’s preferred way of looking for lost cattle was to lie in the shade of a withaak (acacia thorn tree), hat tilted over his face to screen the harsh sun, legs crossed, and to count any cattle that might pass by the tip of his boot. He was thus engaged in cattle counting one day when a huge, dark shadow in the shape of an animal’s head descended across his boot. It was indeed a leopard, but which of the two kinds he did not think to check.

Photograph of a leopard killing a warthog from the book called African Icons

There are two of many other things in Mashatu Game Reserve, located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, where we go in search of leopards (just the one kind). Before we do, it is worth lingering on some of them because they have led to this dusty corner of Africa being dubbed a “land of giants”. First are the two gargantuan tree species, the baobab and the mashatu. The baobab (Adamsonia digitata) is well enough known, and in its winter nakedness it is often referred to as the upside-down tree, the stubby branches resembling roots reaching up into the sky.

The tree is something of a bush supermarket, with every part rendering some use to either humans or animals. Being a succulent, elephants gain moisture from the bark in times of drought. Antelope and other browsers eat the leaves and large white flowers when they fall to the ground. Bush children cherish the cream of tartar fruits, as do baboons and monkeys. The bark can be made into rope or fabric and the sap is used in traditional medicine as a skin ointment. Animals from mammals (large and tiny), bats, birds, snakes and insects all make use of one part of the tree or another.

Photograph of and Elephant chasing some Eland from the book called African Icons

 

Have a look at our video below:

 

 

We stayed at Mashatu Main Camp while photographing and researching this chapter.

 

Photograph of the Mashatu Main Camp from the book called African Icons

 

Wildlife and Adventure.

Mashatu Game Reserve forms the largest portion of the privately owned Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The reserve within a reserve (there are no fences anywhere other than foot-and-mouth disease control gates for local herders) is named after the giant mashatu trees that shade the riverbanks.

The property has both a conventional safari lodge, which has 14 luxury suites designed for complete privacy as well as a more intimate tented camp with eight spacious safari tents. While both these camps offer guests game drives to rival any reserve in Africa, Mashatu has become famed for its adventure activities – horse back safaris, mountain bike safaris and walking safaris. These can last for a few hours or several days depending on the requirements of those taking part.

Whilst these activities attract guests looking for more than the usual bush experience, the permanent, dedicated photographic hides are the reserve’s joker in its game viewing pack. The hides are specially positioned as regards to location, viewing height and the direction of the sun, so as to maximize any photographic opportunities. There are even professional photographic guides to accompany you to the hides and offer guidance in terms of both camera technique and animal behaviour.

There is not much out there to beat sitting at near-surface level beside a water hole with a herd of elephants gamboling about, or a solitary leopard drinking, just metres away. Excepting, that is, if you would prefer to ride a horse or mountain bike in the reserve.

Please visit their web site.

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