In the middle of winter to the Kgalagadi in the Kalahari? You must be mad, everyone said. But I just could not resist the temptation to get back to my beloved Kalahari.
I knew it was going to be cold, but that was a small price to pay to get back there. Little did I know, one of the harshest cold fronts to hit the country in a long time coincided with my Kalahari visit!? Worse than that, I arrived in Uppington for an overnight stay just after a hail storm! It was bitterly, painfully cold.
I stayed the first few nights solo in Tweerivieren. Pitched my tent, arranged my camp site and got my cameras ready to head out into the dunes. There was not much to see that first afternoon besides some Meerkats. I woke at 6:30 the next morning to -5 and my water bottle frozen solid. There were even items in my tent which froze overnight! I really hoped that there was going to be some great photo opportunities! I headed off with my car heater on nuclear, driving very slowly and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye – that colour that stands out in between the red dunes – a male Lion! It made my day. He spent mostly on top of the dune in the sun. I saw that same male Lion the following morning 35km South of my first sighting of him, proof how far the Kalahari Lions travel.
The next few days, I saw mainly more Meerkats and enjoyed their communal/comical interactions. I also saw groups of bat eared Foxes in groups of 6-8 animals that I had not yet seen in my previous visits to the Kalahari. I saw one group acting very strangely. I stopped and watched them for some time through my binoculars while the rest of the group joined. Then I saw it, a Snake! I found it very interesting as Snakes should be hibernating, so I assume the little Foxes must have chased it out of its hole. I watched the interaction between the Foxes and the Snake for some time; how they would jump into the air while the Snake struck out at them. They eventually chased the Snake into the bush. Bat Eared Foxes 1, Snake 0. You can see the photos on Africa Geographic in the blog section, click here to take you there.
My next very exciting sighting was a Cheetah on the lookout at the river bank. Her first try for a Springbok was unsuccessful as the prey saw her long before she got close to them. She walked off and went to lie under a tree. Later that afternoon I looked for her, but she had moved. I drove back to Samevloeing Dam and decided to just sit and wait in the surrounding for a bit. It was then that I spotted her again. I knew she was hunting and tried to watch her through the hunt, my heart was beating fast with the thrill of it. She suddenly appeared closer on the ridge and then she went for it. She was so fast the buck had no idea what was happening yet, as she was using the bushes and trees so well! Then there was just dust and Springbuck running in all directions. Unfortunately she took off away from me into the dunes. I assume she caught a buck, as I did not see her walk back.
I then travelled North to Nossob Camp, where I spent 2 nights and saw a Cheetah with 3 cubs. It was very far over 300m and even though I could not take any photos, it was so special to see the Cheetah cubs out and about with their mom. They still had the white fluff on their backs and they played in the tree until their mom took them into the dunes. Pitching my tent took me no longer than 15 minutes and I was headed further North towards Bedink waterhole. On my way I saw 2 male Lions lying back to back in the sun and knew they were not going to move for a while. When I arrived at Bedink waterhole there was a large male Lion eating a Gemsbok. In the long grass, I could see a Lioness lift her head in his direction.? I watched the male Lion eat every bit of the buck. This tableau was played out in front of me in the most magnificent late afternoon light.
During the night, I hear a Lion roar close to camp – a typical Kalahari sound! I woke the next morning with a sense of anticipation, think I might see him, but he had left for the dunes. Driving back to Bedink waterhole, I had hoped to see the Lions again, but when I arrived, there was nothing there – not even the horns of the buck!
The following morning as I drove out of the camp and spotted a Lioness beside the road. And then I saw it, a little female cub about 6 months old. It was so amazing to see the love this Lioness showered on her cub, how she played with her and the different calls she made to “talk” to her. The look in her eyes was full of love, caring and soft. For me, this was an incredibly special moment which I am grateful to have seen.
I left West for Mata-Mata on the Aub rivier. On the way there I saw the Cheetah mom and her 3 cubs again. I noticed that one was quite a lot smaller than the others. Unfortunately they were again on the other side of the river, so no photos. Driving through the dunes I briefly saw a Honey Badger before he disappeared into the dunes. Mata-Mata is known for its Giraffes and I was very blessed to have a good sighting of these gangly, majestic animals. Packing up the next morning, I saw a Jackal in the riverbed that looked really uncomfortable. I watched him through my binoculars and saw why. As I scanned the riverbed I saw him, a large male Lion lying riverside. Nobody from camp was looking at this as they were all packing up and getting ready for the gate to open. You could see him from the road.
Driving back South towards Tweerivieren on my way home, I saw a Spotted Hyena and decided to have a coffee break at Auchterlonie. I had just gotten out the car when a young lady said “Leopard!”. I took my camera out and walked towards the riverbank to photograph the Leopard. It is always such a treat to see this shy animal. When I got there, it was a Cheetah, but nonetheless, it was a wonderful sighting! The Cheetah started to walk up the riverbank towards us, I was shooting as she came towards us with my heart beating like a drum and the adrenalin pumping! Myself and another photographer were kneeling down shooting as she came closer and closer. Now she was only 10m away! There was a group of people behind us, we told them “Just keep still, do not run so we do not confuse the situation and create chaos”. I will never forget the look in her eyes. She was calm and because she was, so was I, even though I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest! It was one of those sublime moments you are rarely privileged to witness. This was a wild Cheetah and not used to people at all! She ran a few steps, then stood still and watched us again, then walked off. After about 100m she stopped again to look at us and then finally made off to the dunes. I will remember this Cheetah for a long, long time!
I think the Kalahari always gives me something special to take home with me, and she seems to give me just enough to keep me coming back like an addict! Reluctantly, I admit I prefer the summer visits to the winter visits as the gates only open at 7:30am and close at 6:00pm in winter. Because of the cold, the animals seem sluggish and only move to the waterholes much later than in summer. I also found the Lions are very lazy, spending the days lying around sunning as much as possible! Clever Lions!
Even though I have just left, with the memories still fresh in my mind, I cannot wait for my next visit, which will be in October for 10 days!
Thank you Kalahari.