Mashatu always delivers!
Of all the parks and reserves ACQ guide, Villiers Steyn, has been to in Africa, Mashatu is his favourite. He explains why this gem in Botswana’s Tuli Block is so special for wildlife photography…
I often get asked: “What’s your favourite national park or game reserve in Africa?”. Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park always comes to mind and so does the magnificent Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, but the answer always stays the same – it’s got to be Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve!
Sure, I’m a little bit biased because I used to study the movement patterns of the region’s substantial leopard population as part of my Masters Degree in Nature Conservation between 2004 and 2007, but since then it’s Mashatu’s infinite photographic opportunities that have kept me going back and back for more…
So what makes Mashatu so special?
Unlike the Sabi Sands, where I lead photographic safaris for most of the year, Mashatu’s terrain is very open. It consists not so much of big grassy plains like in the Masai Mara, but rather of sweeping valleys that lie in between rocky ridges and magnificent dry riverbeds.
These open spaces have two big advantages for wildlife photographers. Firstly, they’re full of game! Not only do impalas, zebras, wildebeest, eland, baboons and other general game congregate in these clearings – they also attract plenty of elephants as well as numerous cheetah families. The latter seem to be most abundant during the summer months (December to March) when they impalas and wildebeest have given birth, supplying the spotted speedsters with plenty of easy targets.
Secondly, the lack of obstacles in the Limpopo Valley makes off-roading considerably easier than in South Africa’s Lowveld. That means getting into position for those perfect photographs usually happens faster and, most of the time, you can drive 360 degrees around your four-legged subjects, choosing exactly the right lighting (front light, side light or backlight) and background – something most wildlife photographers consider a luxury.
One of the main reasons we scheduled our first #MashatuGreenSeasonSafari for February 2019, is the fact that the reserve transforms into a lush Garden of Eden after the rains. You’ll have Mashatu in all its summertime glory as the backdrop for all your photos.
Every game drive through the verdant landscape is a sensory overload: The delightful smell of wild sage fills your nostrils; the deafening clatter of ten thousand red-billed queleas resound in your ears; and, if you time it right, spectacular yellow devil’s thorn flowers carpet the earth as far as the eye can see, creating a wondrous environment in which even the most average of animal species look amazing.
Big, BIG trees!
Mashatu trees, also known as nyala trees, grow prolifically in Mashatu’s central game viewing area. Nowhere else in Africa have I seen specimens as big as the ones that grow here! Like colossal green beacons they line the banks of the Majale, clearly revealing the riverbed’s course to onlookers perched on top of the numerous koppies, which are routinely used as sundowner spots.
With temperatures soaring in the high thirties (Celsius) in summer, Mashatu trees provide the best possible shade for creatures great and small. Everything from tree squirrels to elephants find respite under its canopies and, in the branches above, leopard sprawl themselves much to the delight of those photographers that are persistent enough to find them. In fact, roughly translated, the name ‘Mashatu’ means ‘mother of the python’ and refers to another giant, the African rock python, that often uses the Mashatu treetops as hiding places.
Action and interaction
Another thing Mashatu is renowned for, is action! Whether it’s a clan of spotted hyenas trying to steal a lion’s kill, a herd of elephants bathing in a waterhole or a cheetah mother taking down an impala for her youngsters – there often seems to be something really interesting happening on game drive.
Perhaps it’s because of the great visibility that guests see more of what’s actually going on in the bush, or perhaps it’s the fact that there are relatively few vehicles out in the massive 29000 ha concession, which usually allows you to sit with at a specific sighting for long periods of time without having to make space for someone else.
One thing I can say with absolute certainty, and you’ll hear me say it many times if you ever join me there: “Mashatu always delivers!”.
Come experience this piece of paradise with me in February next year. Lance van de Vyver and I will be hosting an unforgettable 5-day safari at Mashatu Tent Camp with 12 guests from 15-19 February. For more information or to make a booking, please visit: http://atclosequarters.com/mashatu-botswana-photo-safari/.
Please note that, because they’re very inactive that time of the year, we won’t be using Mashatu’s underground hides on this safari. Instead we’ll use all our time searching for game in the stunning summer surroundings.
I hope to see you there!