February 24, 2012

CAMP DIARIES: A LEOPARD, JUST IN IN TIME! – MASHATU (BOTSWANA), 24 FEBRUARY 2012



EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in Mashatu in Botswana is fast becoming a firm favourite with all that dare to cross the Limpopo River via cable-car and step into the unknown. The vastness of the landscape and the abundance of wildlife combine for an unforgettable experience. And with experience instructors like Brian and Chantelle, it is sure to be even more memorable.  Brian sums up the trails guide course that ended recently:

At the beginning of January Chantelle and I welcomed 12 students to our camp near Solomon’s Wall for a month of trails walking. The area was looking lovely with all the Devil’s Thorn flowers scattered across the soil. Although there has not been much grass growing we have had an influx of general game. There have been many zebras and wildebeest that have gathered in our area. The general game is normally pretty good this side, but with all the zebras and wildebeest it has been a feast for the eyes.

On each walk we encountered numerous animals including warthog, baboons, kudu, eland, impala, rock hyrax, klipspringer and steenbok. There have literally been animals all over the place. Even the lions made an appearance and we were fortunate enough to see a large male lion on two separate occasions near the Motloutse River. On one of the walks we even found tracks of a lioness with tiny little cubs. We were also very lucky with leopard sightings and bumped into them on at least three occasions in our concession.


On the night that we had the sleepout we went for a night drive and were lucky enough to get good views of two Selous mongoose, a very curious jackal that approached the vehicle closely, two groups of bat-eared foxes, an aardwolf, an African wild cat, numerous springhares and a three-banded courser.


Early in the morning as some of the students were sleeping and others were standing guard the lions started roaring in the distance. It was great! The next morning we walked back to camp, hoping to see signs of the lions that we had heard during the night.

As we were crossing a patch of scrub mopane Chantelle heard elephants up ahead. We scouted around them and then climbed up a small rise so that we could see them. They were busy browsing very close to where we had been walking. It is amazing how they can hide so well in the bushes. It shows – you need to be extremely careful and alert when walking in these wild areas. If Chantelle had not heard them we would have walked straight into the herd before realising that they were there.



On the last walk of the course both Kyle and Graham (students) were in search of a potentially dangerous game encounter for their assessment. We started off by walking towards East-West Ridge, hoping to find tracks or signs of elephants at the water point. Unfortunately there were no tracks there.

We then headed across to Mantintinyane Ridge, which we climbed (hoping to spot elephants from the top). Once again there was no sign of the big-feet. We rested on top of the ridge taking in the view of the plains below, with the beautiful yellow flowers and the zebras, wildebeest and kudu wandering about. Seven black-backed jackals were walking through the Salvadora bushes. It was already very hot and our shirts were wet from the perspiration. We then decided to leave Mantintinyane and head towards Sandgrouse Ridge, going past Kgotla Waterhole. We entered into the thick fever berry crotons, fully alert as the vegetation there is quite thick.

At this point both Kyle and Graham had almost resigned themselves to the fact that our chances of getting the required encounter were very slim. They both seemed quite glum. Then, as we were walking silently through the thicket searching the area ahead of us, Chantelle heard a branch breaking to our right. We decided to head in that direction to check it out, our eyes straining for the big grey beast that were expecting ahead of us.

As we came up to the area where Chantelle had heard the branch crack we bent down to peer under the low canopy. Approximately 40 m ahead was a small clearing in the bushes – and there we saw it: a leopard! The spotted cat saw us immediately and quickly ran into the thicket on the other side of the clearing. What a relief! I could see the weight being lifted off Kyle and Graham’s shoulders and they laughed and slapped each other on the backs in a congratulatory gesture.

We decided not to follow after the leopard as it had entered very thick vegetation. Carefully we exited the thicket and headed to the Amphitheatre where we climbed up one of the sandstone ridges and sat on top watching the view of Tukwi Plains below us.


Everyone was happy and relieved that we had gotten the encounter. We watched as the sun was setting over the hills and Bjorn arrived for our arranged pickup and we headed back to camp, with smiles on our faces. It had been another great day of walking in Tuli in Botswana.

(Thank you Brian for the photos!)

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