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Elephant and leopard safari Part 1 : Shindzela, Umkumbe and Mashatu


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Myself and 2 friends spent 5 wonderful weeks in South Africa and Botswana during July and August, 2011 . This was my 4th safari, Cheryl’s second and Caryl’s first, so a real mix of safari experience and expectations.


Highlights of the first 2 weeks at Shindzela, Umkumbe and Mashatu included leopard at all 3, rhino at both Shindzela and Umkumbe whilst Mashatu dazzled us with more leopard, hyena pups, leopard cubs, aardwolf, bushpig and porcupine together with many other great sightings.


The full itinerary was:


Shindzela (3 nights)

Umkumbe (2 nights)

Mashatu Tented Camp (5 nights) Photos for these three camps are available at https://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Africa2011ShindzelaUmkumbeMashatu

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) - Nossob Rest Camp (3 nights), Gharagab Wilderness Camp (2 nights), Kalahari Tented Camp (2 nights) and Kalahari Rest for 2 nights between Maun and KTP. Photos available at https://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Africa2011KgalagadiTransfrontierPark

Mobile camping safari with Masson Safaris. Savute – 4 nights, Khwai – 3 nights and Moremi 3 nights. Photos available at https://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Africa2011Botswana


A selection of photos has been added to the gallery at Safaritalk



The air was booked as usual with Rowan Matthewson at RACT Travelworld in Collins St Hobart. Sallie Masson patiently booked Shindzela, Umkumbe and Mashatu whilst Ewan Masson slaved over a hot computer to book camps in KTP.


Despite the best efforts of the dust cloud that had plagued some Southern Hemisphere airports during June, local fog and airline vagaries Caryl and I flew out of a cold, drizzly Hobart en route to Hoedspruit. The Virgin Australia flight to Melbourne was fine, we then had a 3 hour wait in Melbourne before a seemingly endless 3.5 hour flight to Perth. Our bags were checked all the way from Melbourne to Hoedspruit and we wondered if we would ever see them again. Another 3 hour wait in Perth before we boarded the South African plane for an eleven hour flight to Johannesburg (JNB). There was an absolute killer of a 7 hour wait before the domestic flight to Hoedspruit, and yes, my bag came off in JNB but Caryl’s went straight through to the domestic terminal.


The airport at Hoedspruit is a former military facility and must have one of the longest taxiways ever – the plane seemed to weave about through short lanes and old bunkers until finally the small airport building appeared. We heard that this airport is a good place to see caracal as a number were released to control the dove population which poses a problem to aircraft. Needless to say, all the caracal were in their ‘burrows’ the day our flight landed. I was pleased to see the transfer driver waiting for us and to make the one hour trip to Shindzela arriving in time for afternoon tea and more importantly, the afternoon game drive.




Sam was our guide and we really enjoyed spending time with him. Dave, the owner of the camp had radioed through the location of 3 white rhino that we found at sunset. After dark we saw a civet cat, spotted genet and many bushbabies. We arrived back at camp for our first delicious meal prepared by Gertie – sweet potato soup with cream and peanuts and a lamb and vegetable poitje. Given that I hadn’t seen a bed for 48 hours dessert gave way to sleep, the only sound heard during the night was a hyena calling close to camp. Next morning I woke at 5.50 ready for the morning game drive, despite telling Caryl that I expected to sleep late, but hey this is Africa and I had nothing to do but look at animals…


There was a beautiful sunrise and our first sighting was of elephant at the waterhole.




Other appearances were made by steenbok, magpie shrikes, many impala, crested guineafowl, more elephant, lilac breasted rollers (LBR) and secretary birds.




Sam followed a large herd of buffalo which had been tracked for some days by a small pride of lions. We didn’t see the lions, but the trail of destruction left by the buffalo was unmistakable. Sam told us that these lions were quite special. A lioness with 2 cubs of her own had adopted 2 other cubs when their mother died and managed to raise all four to the ages of 12 and 15 months. He said this was known as allo-lactation, and although it isn't a rare event, it isn't all that common either. At one stage the camp staff thought the cubs had died as they hadn’t been sighted for some time, however when they re-appeared it was obvious that the foster mother had done a great job. She had been joined by her sub-adult son from the previous litter who provided great support hunting for the 4 growing cubs.




During the afternoon game drive a large male leopard was sighted, Dave said he passes through Shindzela sometimes and is quite old, possibly blind in one eye yet still in good condition – his torn ears were testimony to his survival skills. There were elephant at the waterhole in the late afternoon sun and the spotlight later revealed 3 buffalo, impala and grey duiker. We enjoyed a good sighting of a white-backed vulture feeding chicks in a large and untidy stick nest. Other sightings included bush babies, grey duiker, spotted genet, a rhino and calf and a spotted eagle owl (a first for me.)


The final game drive at Shindzela saw us following the lions that had given up on the buffalo and instead switched their attention to a group of 4 giraffe that included 2 young. Sam was sure they were going targeting one of the small giraffe as the negligent parents had wandered on ahead and the lions hadn’t eaten for 4-5 days. Other sightings included a pair of side-striped jackals (another first), the first hoopoe of the trip, little bee-eaters and a pair of delicate steenboks.


Shindzela is a very honest safari camp – it is comfortable and rustic (I thought the outdoor bathroom was great,) with tasty food and a strong focus on game viewing. We saw the big 5 in 48 hours. Whilst I don’t focus on the Big 5 I understand that for travelers with limited time this can be important and Caryl was delighted with sightings of 5 different rhino. The transfer driver collected us after lunch and drove us via the back roads to Umkumbe in the Sabi Sand. This was my first visit to both the Timbavati and Sabi Sand and I was very taken with the gentle scenery at Sabi Sand Game Reserve which didn’t seem as dry or harsh as the Timbavati.




The lodge has been in Celeste’s family since in 1932 and has a lovely established and very settled atmosphere mostly due to the old, shady trees on the property. These elegant trees are alive with birds that include black-headed oriole, paradise fly-catchers and purple turaco. Celeste and Herman have recently upgraded the lodge to accommodate more overnight guests in addition to the day visitors.


Herman met us at the gate at Umkumbe and showed to rooms 5 & 6 where we quickly settled in and made ready for the evening game drive. We were able to get close to 2 white rhino and 3 buffalo on our first drive. Dinner was a beef poitje followed by Malva pudding. Next day we were up at 6 am for tea and rusks before heading out on the morning game drive. It was a very cold morning and there wasn’t much about – saw buffalo, kudu, impala, hoopie, and a Bennett’s woodpecker. Breakfast back at the lodge was fruit, cereal, yoghurt, eggs (cooked by Herman), onion, mushroom and sausage.




Sadly, the afternoon game drive was also very quiet. A tree squirrel noisily guarded his territory from high up in a tree, 2 giraffe, a herd of buffalo and a skittish rhino bull. We had been back at camp when a radio call alerted Herman to a nearby leopard stalking a white-tailed mongoose. Needless to say we hot-footed it back to the vehicle and were with the leopard (known as the Dudley male) in no time, a wonderful sighting to finish the day.




Next day we were up early for tea and rusks after which we piled into the Landrover and saw kudu, grey louries and rhino. We left the rhino in a big hurry when we heard a leopard call – the Dudley male from last night.














Stayed with him for about 30 minutes as he walked nonchalantly along the track, stopping to scent mark and groom himself. This special sighting ended our stay on a high as Herman drove us to the Sabi Sand gate where the transfer driver collected us for the trip to Hoedspruit airport and the flight to JNB.


Andre from Eastwood Lodge collected us from the airport for the 30 minute drive to the Lodge, where we met up with Cheryl. The lodge has a pleasant bar and dining room and large, comfortable rooms. Next day we transferred back to the airport for the flight to Polokwane and the 2 hour road trip to Pont Drift and Mashatu.




This was my second trip to Mashatu, having spent 4 nights there in 2008. I requested Richard as our guide and also a trip to Pete’s Pond as Caryl is a ‘pondie’ from way back.


Jakes met us at the border and helped load us and bags in to cable car for the journey across the Limpopo River into Botswana. I enjoy the cable car and being able to answer ‘cable car’ on the immigration form when giving details of how I arrived in Botswana. Jakes transferred us to Richard’s game drive vehicle where our first sighting was of a leopard on a dry riverbank. The leopard had killed a warthog at a waterhole and dragged the carcass over the dry riverbed where it was partially hidden under a fallen tree. The leopard was stretched full length digesting the meal and as we watched his head nodded lower and lower until at last he was full length and asleep. Next, we went to see the 3 cheetah brothers that have lived at Mashatu for many years before turning for home when we saw both great and spotted eagle owls.




Dinner was in the boma, followed by a sound sleep.


Notable sightings from the next day’s game viewing were a herd of elephants slowly investigating the bones of an elephant that had died a year earlier.







Richard stopped near a tree where long-tailed starlings were making alarm calls at a pearl spotted with a red-billed ox-pecker kill. Closer to camp we saw a boomslang in a tree, a python and stopped at the white-fronted bee-eater colony where the birds were still warming up for the day.






The afternoon game drive was very quiet so Richard took us quite a way from camp to where the lions were hunting impala. Later on the drive back to camp a leopard was sighted – the fourth of the trip.


We had booked an Ivory Drive with elephant researcher Gianetta on the second full day of our stay. This drive was excellent as Gianetta had spent 10 years researching some of the 1,400 Mashatu elephants and was able to recognize some family groups. She told us about some of the recent research into elephants completed in other areas such as the social life of bull elephants once they leave the herd and the schooling role played by the older bulls in keeping the younger ones under control. She also mentioned research into community programs growing cash crops of chilli and raising honey bees in order to keep elephants away from food crops. We watched a couple of family groups inter-acting at the river while we had morning tea.








Later on the drive back to camp a large herd of giraffe were watching us, with 6 young animals appearing to be very curious.


The notable sighting of the afternoon game drive was an aardwolf, another first for me. An adult was lying out in full view, soaking up the late evening sun. This was a gem of a sighting as Richard had warned me that the most they usually saw of the aardwolf was a nose and ears. He was surprised to find 3 aardwolves at the burrow as only 2 were known to staff.







Later we drove to where the lion cubs (around 8-12 months old) were waiting hopefully for a meal, however the lionesses returned without a kill. Still, the cubs were very pleased to see them and we enjoyed the greeting they shared. Whilst spotlighting on the way back to camp Ona found an aardvark on the opposite side of a dry river bed – another first, although I only glimpsed the long ears and rounded back.


Next day we saw a small breeding herd of elephants that had been joined by 3 bulls. The size difference between the females and males was striking as the males towered over the smaller females. Further down a brown headed kingfisher was warming up in the morning sun and a troop of baboons was waking up slowly and grooming in the early morning sun. (Rude baboon photos are available via the Picasa link - there may be children reading!!)




A little further on was a Mashatu tree full of vervet monkeys relaxing in the early morning sun – they looked like flowers in the sunrays. A pair of ostriches was out and about early near the monkey tree.


More later...

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Great sighting and photos of the aardwolf. That would have been really exciting for me.

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Great sighting and photos of the aardwolf. That would have been really exciting for me.


Yes, the aardwolf was on my 'wish list' although I never expected to have such an extended sighting of this shy animal. Here is the next instalment:


Back with the lions it looked as though the cubs had fed and Richard guessed that the lionesses had made a small kill during the night. A noteworthy sighting was my first bushpig feeding on fallen marula fruit. He was very possessive about the area and chased the grazing impala away from ‘his territory’.






Back at the hide after lunch we sat with a pearl spotted owl that was perched in a tree a few metres away, a few daring golden breasted buntings bravely perched in the same tree for a short time.






Impala and bushbuck also visited during the early afternoon and were beautifully reflected in the still water.



During the evening drive we checked the aardwolf although all we could see was the usual view of nose and ears.



The hyena pups were out and about in the late afternoon sun and being curious creatures, approached the vehicle.







A delicate steenbok posed for photos and we watched a scimitar-billed hoopoe on a nearby tree.




Later we saw civet and genet by spotlight, however the big sighting was a young leopard stalking 2 porcupine. The smart porcupines walked very close together so the leopard couldn’t get between them, changing direction often. Tonight we are the only guests in camp, so it was a very small group which met for dinner in the boma.


Next morning we had a quiet drive to Pete’s Pond where the resident large flock of guinea fowl was present accompanied by impala including some crotchety and hissing territorial males. Other visitors to the Pond were baboons, warthogs, a lone wildebeest and a couple of water monitors all watched over by a great egret perched high in a dead tree. Once we had left the Pond Richard received a radio call that the leopard cubs had been located so we sped across the reserve to find a female leopard with 3 cubs and an impala kill stashed in a tree. The cubs were playing together while Mum snoozed.










We returned to the cubs in the afternoon and found that the young male that had been stalking the porcupines was the son of the female from her previous litter. He had appropriated the impala and dragged it under a tree where he crunched bones and growled as he worried away at the carcass.




A small cub was desperate to join in the feeding and made some fearsome growls of his own, however he was wise enough not to intrude on the feeding male.









Next morning was sadly our final Mashatu game drive. Richard stopped for photos of an ‘elephant sunrise’ as we left camp and later we saw 2 African wildcats one of which Richard located by following the alarm calls of the noisy crested francolin.




Back at the leopard cubs the male had finished the impala and was so full he could barely waddle. One cub was playing in a tree as the others tumbled on the ground, the female was nowhere to be seen, possibly hunting for the next meal.






Later we enjoyed morning tea on the banks of the Limpopo River before Richard took us to the border and caught the cable car back to South Africa.


The road transfer to Polokwane took 2 hours and the flight to Johannesburg another 40 minutes. Stayed overnight at the Metcourt Suites which is not as good as it had been in 2008. I thought the refurb was garish, water from the shower leaked over the bathroom and the breakfast was not as good as before. Next day we had a pleasant 1.5 hour flight to Maun during which I met Bill Given from the Wild Source, who was taking his daughter for a first safari. Ewan and Sallie Masson met us at the airport and we transferred to Riley’s, after which we walked back to town for the ATMs and a look around the local souvenir shops. It was 25C, so quite warm and we decided to taxi back to the hotel for a lazy afternoon. The water in the Thamalakane River is very high and close to the hotel garden. Dinner at Riley’s was very ordinary, however the breakfast buffet was good. Ewan arrived at 9 am and we set for Kang 600 km down the track towards Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.


Part 2 Kgalagadi and the Delta will be along in about 10 days.

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Sounds like a wonderful trip. Loving all of your beautiful photos. Look forward to your next installment.

Thanks for posting.

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Leopards Galore! The Aardwolf sighting is surely special. Great start, sounds live a very exciting trip.


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Fantastic start!


That aarwolf sighting sure is special.


Good to hear Dave and Gertie are still doing great. And sheesh... did you all see the neck on that Dudley male? What a specimen!



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What a terrific first 2 weeks, Treepol. Your photos are extraordinary and I'm so very jealous of that aardwolf sighting!


When you're done with the report, would love to hear how you finalized your itinerary - i.e. why you chose the places and types of camps you did, the sequencing of the trip etc. It sounds like a really well-thought through itinerary with such a wide range of landscapes and habitats. Did you consult with people about it or put it together yourself?


Thanks - Sangeeta

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Some lovely sightings ;)


Looks like Savuti/Moremi was a bit slow.


Thanks for sharing.



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Wonderful report, loving the photos.

And yes, ditto on the aardwolf sightings! I saw one at Wolwedans but from quite a distance, and only briefly, so nothing like the sightings you enjoyed!


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Thanks, TreePol. How are Ewan and Sallie doing? and their camp hands? I must write them to say hello ..... been a long time.

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Elephants and leopards and lots more. What a find with the leopard cub! A fine specimem of a bush pig, too. The hyena pup peeking out was very adorable. Your first time visitor did very well and even saw some rarities. I hope she appreciated that aardwolf.


How nice Masson Safaris did your non-mobile destinations. Very convenient. Hum dinger of an itinerary you ended up with!

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Great luck with the sightings - amazing stuff, and you're only just getting started too. Leopard sightings are wonderful and of course the double Some interesting stuff shared from the guides too.


Lots of places I don't much about at all and so this is double-good. Great itinerary and I'd guess your friends must have been totally totally impressed at this point.


I'll be back to read this again and check out the photos. Looking forward to the next installment - you can take longer than 10 days if you want to add more detail - but not so long you run out of steam like me!!

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Thanks everyone for the kind words and encouragement, and for reading along.


@sangeeta - sure, I will add something at the end of the report about the 'evolution' of this itinerary, thanks for your interest.


@Jochen - I did indeed see the neck on that leopard - because I was on the bait seat! It was a great experience and one that I will remember for many years to come.


@MAC - Sallie and Ewan are doing fine and Bendi, Vincent and Kazi all doing well. Ewan has a busy season booked and then he's going fishing...I'm sure they would be very happy to hear from you.


@pault - promise to finish the report before I run out of steam!










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Absolutely fantastic. And great photos to top it.

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Nice report, Treepol! I'm headed to Shindzela in October and am looking forward to it.

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