Mashatu is known, among many other things, for its wonderful leopard sightings. Most of the sightings take place along the Majale river or in the drainage lines feeding into the Majale. The Majale is the main river coursing through Mashatu Nature Reserve and it is seasonal. In the summer, December to March, the rains create numerous pools of water in this meandering river. Even in the rainy season it seldom flows bank to bank. The rains also fill up the pans so the wildlife spreads out and does not need to come to the Majale to drink.
“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.” ~ Emma Smith
Along the Majale is a selection of large Mashatu trees (Nyala berry), Leadwoods and Apple-leafs which provide ample shade and places for leopards to lie in the heat of the day, and there are also many Croton groves in which leopards can hunt.
“The river has great wisdom and whispers its secrets to the hearts of men.” ~Mark Twain
Late one afternoon our guide, Justice, was driving the southern bank of the Majale. We had been following the meandering course of the river driving under all the large Mashatu trees looking for leopards. We also drove through the Croton groves where leopards can sometimes be found lying on the ground in the shade of the Croton bushes. Eventually travelling west we arrived at Figtree crossing. There lying among the rocks in the afternoon shade next to one of the remaining pools of water we found a solitary young male leopard.
This leopard, after spending some time just looking and listening, got up and went down to the water’s edge for a drink.
There were no baboons around so he got to drink in peace. Nevertheless he was alert and looking around while he was drinking.
After sating his thirst he got up and started walking east along the dry riverbed.
The late afternoon light cast a warm hue of golden light over the northern bank which was reflected in the remaining pool of water.
This young male leopard eventually climbed up the northern bank. He looked ready to hunt rather than just patrolling his territory. Regularly he would stop and just look and listen.
“In stillness lives wisdom. In quiet you’ll find peace. In solitude you’ll remember yourself.”~ Robin Sharma
The vegetation away from the northern bank of the Majale was verdant and gave him plenty of cover. As he wandered along the edge of a Croton grove he stopped in mid stride to listen to something that caught his attention.
After wandering for about 20 minutes he eventually climbed the trunk of a fallen acacia tree. This tree was probably pushed over by elephants but the fallen trunk gave him an elevated view of the surrounding area.
It was dusk and the light was fading fast. There was plenty of cloud so the late afternoon light would break through the cloud for fleeting moments. The leopard found a comfortable spot to lie down and just look and listen. In the distance he could hear baboons barking which made his ears turn back slightly. The baboons were far way, so there was no encroaching threat to him.
It is a real privilege to sit quietly and just watch a leopard sensing its environment.
This young male appeared relaxed and from a distance his coat blended in with the fallen tree remarkably well. In the fading light, if we had not seen him climb into the fallen tree trunk we might have not seen him at all.
” Learning to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance.”~ Morgan Freeman
Young male leopards are usually chased away from the rich hunting ground along the Majale river by the mature males. The older males are considerably more secretive and less used to the game vehicles.
We spent an entrancing hour with this young male leopard. We did not need to get too close because I was using a long camera lens so while he was aware of us he ignored us.
“Can you be alone without being lonely? Can you spend time by yourself without craving noise or company of other people? Have you discovered the glory of quiet time spent alone, time spent listening to your soul? Solitude brings with it gifts that come from nowhere else.” ~ Steve Goodier
We usually see leopards in the early morning or at dusk. Often at dusk, a leopard will come down from his arboreal shady resting place and lie on the ground gathering himself for the night’s hunting. Last light is often a good time to see leopards come down to the pools of remaining water in the otherwise dry Majale riverbed. The baboons are usually making their way to the trees where the troop will sleep so the leopards are less likely to bump into a troop of baboons at last light. The early mornings can be quite a different interaction where the leopards have to be more careful.
Have fun, Mike