Mashatu Safari

Yes, one of the perks of living in South Africa is proximity to incredible wildlife and landscapes. When there’s a chance to go on safari, we often take it. A couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to go on safari in the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana.

Mashatu is part of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, a huge swath of protected land that encompasses parts of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The Mashatu portion, aside from being a fantastic safari destination due to its diversity of flora and fauna, is rich with cultural history, as well. Some of Southern Africa’s most ancient sites are here, and its earliest peoples (the Khoi and the San) have roots in the area.

Reaching Mashatu means driving from Pretoria to the Pont Drift border post in Limpopo Province. A steady pace with spartan stops — and lots of braking for potholes — got us to the border in about five-and-a-half hours.

Once through customs and immigration on the South African side, we left our vehicle under a tree in “no man’s land” — an area just across the border but not yet officially in Botswana. Our friend Isak Pretorius was there to meet us in a Mashatu vehicle driven by Kenosi, our guide for the next few days. We jumped in and prepared to cross the mighty Limpopo River into Botswana. Fortunately, it wasn’t so mighty that day:

Safely across, we pulled out our passports again on the Botswana side. Then we made tracks to the Mashatu Main Camp Lodge, a 45-minute drive on rutted, rocky paths.

The beautiful landscape of Mashatu
The beautiful landscape of Mashatu

It was just after noon and temps were already in the mid-90s (34° C). It was to be like that.

But let’s cut to the chase: You’re here to see what we saw, not read about the lodge (which was great, with a thatched veranda overlooking a watering hole frequented by elephants, warthogs, bushbuck, and all manner of birds). You want to know if we came across any lions (yes, a couple), found any pythons swallowing large rodents (nope, even though Mashatu means “many pythons”), or witnessed a momma cheetah taking down an impala in less than three seconds (we did!). So, from here, the pictures and videos will (mostly) tell the stories.

Just a warning: There are some shots of cheetahs with their kills. There will be blood. Circle of life, and all that…

Giraffe with a drinking problem
Giraffe with a drinking problem
Giraffe drinking at Mashatu
Giraffe (with red-billed oxpeckers) drinking at Mashatu
Cheetah cubs
Cheetah cubs
Gnawing on mom's ear
Gnawing on mom’s ear
Spotted hyena
Spotted hyena
Spotted hyena with dental issues
Spotted hyena with dental issues
Impala at sunrise
Impala at sunrise
White-fronted bee-eaters
White-fronted bee-eaters
White-fronted bee-eater
White-fronted bee-eater
White-fronted bee-eater
White-fronted bee-eater
Kudu bull
Kudu bull
Elephant (and butterfly) at Mashatu [This one charged us, by the way. The elephant, not the butterfly.]
Elephant (and butterfly) at Mashatu [This one charged us, by the way. The elephant, not the butterfly.]
Elephant dusting
Elephant dusting
Lioness
Lioness
Cheetah with steenbok kill
Cheetah with steenbok kill
Cheetah with steenbok kill
Cheetah with steenbok kill

I’ll jump back in here to recount, almost as quickly as it happened, the story of a momma cheetah that took down an impala. We had been keeping our eye on the cheetah since the previous evening (see video above), and had seen them lazing during the morning game drive. They seemed hungry, but not yet in position to strike. So, we had coffee a few hundred meters away, and came back to find them spying a herd of impala. Soon, momma decided it was time for action:

Cheetah cubs stalking impala (momma cheetah is running point, several meters in front of them)
Cheetah cubs stalking impala (momma cheetah is running point, several meters in front of them)

We lost sight of momma cheetah behind a bush, but we knew she was inching closer to the impala. The cubs followed in a straight line, obviously keen for the hunt, but still so young as to possibly do something foolish and spoil the surprise. Then, we saw it: Momma cheetah bolted towards the impala. Kenosi started the engine and raced towards the melee. We were on them within 7 seconds, and found this:

Momma cheetah helping a female impala go gently into that goodnight
Momma cheetah helping a female impala go gently into that goodnight
Cheetah cubs enjoying the spoils of mom's quick work
Cheetah cubs enjoying the spoils of mom’s quick work
Delicious!
Delicious!

Cheetahs are amazing animals, and watching them in action was a thrill. Jenny and I have seen predators feasting on kills before, but this was the first live one we witnessed. Granted, we missed some of the action when the cheetah struck the impala behind the bush, but it was still quite a rush. Sad, in a sense, but that one impala gave its life to keep five cheetahs alive. And so on and so on…

Speaking of beautiful bad-asses, the leopard:

Leopard in mashatu tree
Leopard in Mashatu tree
Leopard in mashatu tree
Leopard in Mashatu tree
Leopard in mashatu tree
Leopard in Mashatu tree
Young leopard relaxing under a tree
Young leopard relaxing under a tree

One of the things we love most about safari is the night sky. So far away from “civilization,” the whole sky comes alive with stars and planets and galaxies. Looking up to find the thick stripe of Milky Way above is always a highlight.

There’s so much more we could say, so many more senses to describe. But as this safari story fades to black, I leave you with one of the creatures that often comes out at night: the chameleon. Add him to the list of things that are fun to spot on safari, as well as to the list of “spotted” things (cheetah, hyena, leopard, giraffe?).

Thanks to Isak, Liz, Kenosi, Aaron, and all the folks at Mashatu Main Camp and C4 Photo Safaris for a fantastic experience.

Chameleon at night
Chameleon at night

Whew! Long post. Thanks for coming along.

2 thoughts on “Mashatu Safari

  1. Thanks for sharing what an experience, you guys are so lucky to have such and opportunity!! Enjoy! I am very jealous!

    Like

  2. These photos are absolutely sensational as is your writing. Sharing with grandchildren 🙂
    Keep it coming…and thank you!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s