After Chobe, we flew to another part of Botswana for more safari-ing. Where Chobe is at the northern tip of Botswana, we headed to the Tuli Block in Southeastern Botswana, along the Limpopo River, to a privately-owned reserve that borders South Africa and Zimbabwe. Because the Mashatu Game Lodge is privately-owned, our guides could drive anywhere they wanted to on the property, which made locating hard to find game much easier. While the herds weren’t as large, we were able to get very close to groups of elephants, lions (including a lion kill) and spotted hyenas. And Mashatu offered specialized safaris, which added to reserve’s allure. One morning, my mom and I went on a “Cycling Safari,” biking with two guides across the vast stretches of savannah, which provided a much welcomed workout and a more realistic perspective of the size of several animals (zebras are much smaller than I expected – about the size of a large pony or small horse, while eland, which is Africa’s largest antelope, is enormous). The other specialized safari I went on was a “Predator Drive” with a guide who studies predators for governments and environmental groups and runs these tours to fund his research. On our Predator Drive, we visited the den of spotted hyenas (hyena look like dogs, but more closely resemble cats and have the strongest jaw of any animal on earth), watched honey badgers (which are small and incredibly feisty – often scare off predators much larger than them, like leopards and cheetahs) and observed 3 territorial leopards square off against each other. Fascinating stuff.
But there were 2 incidents that made Mashatu the perfect ending to our trip.
The first was during our first night drive. As we cruised around the 75,000 acre property in our open-topped Land Cruiser with our 2 guides, one of them spotted a female leopard about 30 yards from us. Then out of nowhere came a male. And before we knew it, we had full-on RLP – Real Live Porn; though in this case, I guess it should be RLLP – Real Live Leopard Porn. It was all Bloodhound Gang from there – “you and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” The 6 of us in the car became instantly entranced voyeurs. For the next 45 minutes we were hypnotized as these two leopards continued to mate. Female leopards are apparently in heat for about 4 days, during which she’ll identify and seduce a male partner. And once she does her little dance to attract him, they’ll stay together for those 4 days or so – having sex up to 120 times in that period. Yes, 120 times – with the frequency increasing as the days do. The sexual encounter involves the male mounting the female, going at it for about 15 seconds, roaring, climaxing and then having the female scratch him (I guess literally leaving her mark). The roars were incredibly loud and forceful, leaving us to speculate what the male was exclaiming – “Oh God!”, “Who’s your daddy?”, ”What’s my name, bitch?!,” or “Do it!” Our guides thought we caught them in the 2nd day of this hedonism as during the less than 1 hour we watched, they went at it 6 times! Yes, 6 times! I had only heard of a feat like this once before, and that was my college roommate during the first 2 weeks of his relationship with a girl he started dating when we studying abroad in Australia. Well, he did something right, because “6-Times-A-Day-Jeff” as he was thereafter known has now been married to the girl for 7 years.
Of course, watching two animals go at it with my parents was a little unsettling, especially when I hear comments from my mother like (after the leopard’s third time) “Wow, Matthew, what stamina he has,” or my dad joking about coitus interruptus we’d cause if we moved too close. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t what I was accustomed to in filming these encounters.
The second highlight truly belongs to my dad. When he was in South Africa 4 years ago, the only animal he didn’t see that he wanted to was a cheetah. Cheetahs are fascinating in that they are the fastest land mammals on earth, as they can run at up to 60 mph for stretches of time. They are incredibly graceful animals. So his primary goal for the entire trip was to see a cheetah (or cheeter as he was pronouncing it). And he didn’t stop telling us this. Unfortunately, he didn’t see any in Kruger National Park this time around. And even though there are no cheetahs in Chobe, he incessantly joked around with our guides “when am I going to see my cheetah.” I grew to hate the word and the animal after just 3 days, or 300 mentions by my dad, which ever came first. And then we arrived in Mashatu, which supposedly had a family of cheetahs somewhere across its 75,000 acres. Upon our arrival, my dad had the same giddy excitement as a middle-aged man watching Britney’s “Baby One More Time” for the 2nd time. And in three days of searching, we had no luck. So while my mom and I were on our Cycling Safari on the last morning of our time at Mashatu, my dad went off with a guide on his final drive of the trip. Over the radio, our guide heard that there were cheetahs spotted, to which my mom and I immediately thought my dad got his wish – to see his beloved cheetah. We thought of my dad and were overjoyed. And then 15 minutes later, we heard another voice over the radio about a visitor who was at the cheetah site but had lost his camera, so his jeep had to turn back to find it – and we immediately knew it had to be my dad. Like I said, African Vacation with the Clark Griswald played by Matthew Wallis.
As a side note, my dad found the camera and claimed he saw the cheetah, but we have no absolute confirmation – just the words of him and his guide.
Two days and a 16 hour flight after the Muchenje Lodge, we were back in the States, where the only animals I’ll be seeing are those in the urban jungle as on the highways