We have spent the most amazing week in the Kgalagadi, pronounced ‘chalachadi’ with the ‘ch’ sounding like that in the Scottish ‘loch’. In the Tswana language it means “thirst of infamous nature”. It sure is hot and dry here, although they do get occasional rain, including at this time of year. After the madness of the dust storm, the weather’s settled down a bit and although there have been odd spots of rain it has largely held off over us. There have been huge lightning storms on the horizon most nights, but for some reason they never got as far as us.
The landscape here is beautiful, with line upon line of ancient brick-coloured dunes running roughly north to south for miles. But that is not why we came here. We came for big cats, and we haven’t been disappointed. Our night drive was a great start. We joined an open truck load of tourists, which to start with we were a bit sniffy about. We’d been so spoilt on our trip last year and had the game drives to ourselves, as it was fairly quiet. The camps are fairly full here. What we hadn’t twigged was that more people means more eyes to look for game, and we had a couple of really good spotters on our bus, as well as the guide. We saw all sorts of night-time wildlife including an African Wild Cat, Bat-eared Fox, lots of Spotted Eagle Owls and a family of Cape Foxes which caught something and trotted off to their den with it. But the star of the show was a leopard. She was sat about 20 metres from the road at the foot of a tree, quite unconcerned by our presence. She sat there for about 5 minutes while we all gaped in wonder and snapped with our cameras. Then she climbed up the tree, spread herself along a branch, feet dangling, and went to sleep! Awesome.
Leopard off to bed
We’ve seen lions every day, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups. We came across a family group in the road including 2 young cubs. We drove very slowly past, trying not to disturb them too much. The adults were very relaxed, surprisingly so with the cubs around and so close to the car, but the cubs were hissing and spitting at us. Comical. Another was a big male sat next to his dinner, an unlucky Eland, again just feet from the car. He was sooo hot and just trying to keep cool in the shade of a tree and couldn’t be less interested in us.
“He’s a very friendly lion called Parsley…”
We saw several other carcasses of large antelope – so the lions are obviously very active. Top Tip: don’t ever get downwind of a carcass that’s been there for a while, like we did to get this photo. Big mistake. The smell was so bad it had us gagging.
Unfortunate and very smelly Wildebeest
On our second but last evening we headed out at 5.30 for an evening game drive. Angela was driving and had in mind to do a loop incorporating 2 waterholes. She hadn’t looked properly at the map and didn’t listen properly to Gareth who had tried to tell her how far it was…. It was 25km and on the soft sandy road took 50 minutes to get to the first waterhole. The camp gates shut at 7.30 so we had a maximum of 20 minutes to wait for some action. We drew up to find one other car there. A quick pass with the binoculars showed 3 male lions asleep under some bushes behind the waterhole. They were in no hurry to get up. “Come on Mr Lion, it’s been such a long, hot, tiring day – you must want some lovely cool water. Mmmm, lovely water.….”. Apparently they didn’t. Time was ticking on and we were running out of it. Two were snuggled up next to each other and looked so utterly happy in each others company. One sat up and started to nuzzle his pal, and then softly patted his head, to be gently brushed off by the snoozing friend. It was magical to watch.
Then finally, one by one, they woke up and lazily made their way to the waterhole. Then, again one by one, they strolled up the bank to where we were parked and sat down in front of the cars. We watched and snapped and grinned at our co-witnesses. We wanted to stay but couldn’t risk getting locked out of camp. We signalled with the others who also knew that we were pushing it for time, and both headed off, this time Gareth driving. He made good progress and we made it to the gate with time to spare. We later found out the others had been there since 4pm! – sometimes it’s better to be lucky than patient….
Oh so lucky lion encounter
The following morning we were awake early. Lions had been roaring for half the night, which is hard to sleep through, so at about 5am (yes, am, not pm…) we went down to the hide overlooking the waterhole on the edge of the camp. No lions and the roaring had stopped. Damn, we’d missed them. We headed back to our camp, passing about half a dozen vehicles all ready to go searching for sightings as soon as the gate opened at 5.30. A good time to see the wildlife in action but way, way to early for us to be ready to head out. We decided to get breakfast ready. As the kettle came to the boil the early drivers came flying back into camp – forwards, backwards, whichever way they could get in quickest – dived out of their cars and headed for the hide. We abandoned breakfast and joined them as 3 lions sauntered towards the waterhole, making a hell of a din. We thought it was the males that did all the roaring but it was the girls (2 of them) that were making all the noise now. “Rrrroooaaaaarrrggghh, wwwoooaaaarrhhh, wooommpphh, wooommpphh”. They were making their presence loudly known. Their male companion sat away from them and let them get on with it. One of the girls sashayed towards him, flicking her tail in his face in a most provocative way, but he was not at all interested. Sorry love, he seems to have a headache.
We’ve also seen cheetah, after a tip-off from another visitor who gave us directions – “about 9km past the Mata Mata turn, after the road splits into two, they’re lying flat out under a tree on your right. Look for the tomato that someone’s dropped to mark the spot”! HIs directions were spot on, although without the tomato on the road I don’t think we’d have spotted them – three fat cheetahs lying in the shade. Cool.
As well as the big cats a few other animals stood out. We spotted a Slender Mongoose searching around a bush for his lunch. It had the most beautiful, bright red coat. I imagined mongoose to be quite hard-nosed kind of animals, not very endearing. After all, they kill cobras. But they are really charming. The Yellow Mongoose in camp have obviously read the Cat’s Manual on How to Handle Your Human. They have all he poses and looks down to a tee, designed to promote maximum cute-factor and extract optimum dinner rations. Think Puss in Boots from Shrek and you’ll get the idea. This one was at least after his own dinner. The photo actually shows him yawning, but I wouldn’t want to be on his menu with those gnashers.
Slender Mongoose – Anyone seen American Werewolf In London?….
The area is full of birds of prey and we saw various owls, eagles, falcons, kestrels, harriers, goshawks and vultures but our favourite was probably a young Tawny Eagle. It was trying to drink from an artificial water hole. These shallow concrete bowls are what provide water when the natural pans dry up. They have rounded, sloping edges. The eagle was too big and inexperienced to stoop forward for a drink but didn’t want to get her feet wet. She kept leaning forward and sliding unceremoniously down the slope and into the water, then flapping wildly around trying to get out again. Eventually she jumped right in, which she really didn’t like at all. It was hilarious and just brilliant to watch her antics, as the adult stood watch in the tree above.
Mum, I don’t like it….
Finally, as we got up to our final camp, we saw giraffes, and spent time watching them drink (much more successfully that the eagle). They hosed in huge amounts of water which we could hear them slurping. We love giraffes. They’re brilliant.
Giraffes are so elegant, but they sound like a suction pump when they drink
Next we leave the park, and South Africa, and cross the border into Namibia…