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Tuli>Land of giants Botswana

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Tuli Block — Land of the giants

A safari in the Tuli Block — the land of the giants — will arouse the explorer in you. Under the guidance of experts, you can walk or ride way off the beaten track. The private concession owners offer visitors their intimate and specialised knowledge of the animals, birds and dramatic scenery entrusted to their care. Tuli has a fascinating frontier history and is renowned for its curious geographical features — Solomon's Wall and the Tswapong and Lepokole hills where the ancestors of the San people left traces of their rock paintings.

The Tuli Block forms a long, thin fringe of land demarcating Botswana's southeastern border and is readily accessible by road from South Africa. The 350 km long strip now consists mostly of privately owned reserves or concessions dedicated to game conservation.

Tuli has a fascinating frontier history because of its strategic position along the South African border. Britain declared a protectorate over Bechuanaland in 1885. A decade later Chief Khama III ceded the area to the British South Africa Company. The object was to make the thin strip of rocky terrain a buffer against incursions by the South African Boer farmers. It was also on the direct route to Rhodesia where Cecil John Rhodes intended to build his great railway from the Cape to Cairo.

Rhodes soon discovered that the terrain across several rivers, gorges and rocky outcrops was totally unsuitable for building a railway so he shifted the line to today's route, which runs almost parallel but across the flat plains further to the west. The BSAC built Fort Tuli to protect its land and cattle, but otherwise found little economic use for the Tuli block. Hopes of finding gold in the area were quickly dashed. So a decade later the company sold off its land to private commercial farmers. They too soon found that the rugged, rocky terrain, with its rivers prone to flash floods, was unsuitable for anything but sparse livestock farming.

After the World War the farmers realised that more money could be made from the growing tourism market than direct farming. The Tuli block is an area of outstanding natural beauty with majestic rocks, strange vegetation, abundant wildlife, a profusion of birds and a rich archaeological heritage. This led the landowners to convert almost the whole strip into private game farms and reserves where tourists could be given exclusive holidays. Today the general public can only really access the Tuli block through the safari companies and these established farms and reserves. Otherwise private visitors are restricted to the main road running the length of the block.

The North East Tuli Game Reserve, on the confluence of the Limpopo and the Shashe rivers, is the collective name for several privately owned game reserves including the Mashatu and Tuli Game Reserves, covering all the land north of the Motloutse River. The whole area consisting of game reserves, hunting and conservation concessions covers up to 300,000 ha and is the largest privately owned game conservation area in southern Africa. Mashatu has the largest elephant population on private land.

Much of the area is unfenced allowing the animals to roam freely between the Motloutse and Limpopo rivers. The vegetation is spectacular, the scenery diverse. Gigantic Nyala trees and the yellow barked fever trees grow along the riverbanks. Gaunt sesame trees take root in rocky outcrops. Animals flourish in the wild terrain.

Wildebeest, kudu, eland, impala and waterbuck migrate through the area. Lions (some of them black maned), leopard and cheetah follow the game and mingle with the large herds of elephants. Bird life proliferates in the diverse environment. Tuli is one of the best places in southern Africa for ornithologists. Over 350 species of birds have been identified in the area, including rock thrushes, boulder chats, shrikes and cormorants. Different kinds of kingfishers dart into the streams and rivers, while waders stand in the shallows.

In other parts of Botswana night drives are not permitted, but here, on private land, game drives are arranged where visitors can see the elusive nocturnal creatures that are seldom seen by day, like the leopard, caracul, aardwolf and aardvark. By day experienced trackers and spotters take visitors into the bush by four-wheel-drive or on foot, while mountain biking over organised tracks has become increasingly popular.

Solomon's Wall
Solomon's Wall is one of the most fascinating and dramatic geographical features. The sheer basalt cliffs, 30 metres high, once formed a natural dam across the Motloutse river. A huge lake filled up behind it, with a waterfall spilling over the dyke during the rains, leaving rich mineral deposits of quartz, agate and other semi-precious stones. It was in the sands higher up the Motloutse river that the first alluvial diamonds were found in Botswana, giving a hint of the wealth that was to come.

At Molalatu, just north of the Tuli block, the descendants of the original inhabitants still live. The villagers belonging to the Zionist Christian Church community have devised an ingenious method of protecting their livestock against the wildlife in the area. They breed 'goat dogs'. When the puppies are small they foster them out to lactating goats that treat them as their own children. The puppies grow up thinking of themselves as goats while preserving all their canine instincts. As they get older they accompany the goatherds into the bush, guarding them against predators. Though no match for larger wild animals their reactions create an element of surprise and often scare off potential attackers. Anyway the villagers consider them an effective deterrent and they charge visitors a small fee to see the 'goat dogs'.

Tswapong and Lepokole Hills
The Tuli area is also famous for its Tswapong and Lepokole hills. Tswapong is more accessible to the east of Palapye. Over the ages deep gorges have been carved into the ancient granite rocks by the seasonal rivers and springs. Waterfalls, rock pools and the exotic surrounding vegetation is unique in Botswana. A pile of granite blocks forms the Lepokole hills north of Bobonong. The last of the San in eastern Botswana lived in the hills and left more of their rock paintings in the caves and rocks. Stone Age tools and ancient pottery scattered around the hills are evidence of even earlier occupation
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