Deep into the Kalahari and back – A private audience with the Royal Family

This post is a continuation of my series on the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We continue this post from where we left off last time. We had left the Kalahari tented camp and continued deeper into the desert to our last rest camp, the Nossob camp which is right along the Namibian border along the Nossob river bed.

This region is known for prides of the famous black maned Kalahari lions and our guide Thys was pretty confident that we would end our drought of big cats in this region. While we were discussing this we came across many dried carcasses of huge antelope. Thys said they were the remnants of a huge number of Eland, the largest antelope in Africa which had crossed over from Botswana last year die to extreme drought in that country and became wasy prey for the cats and jackals of the park.There was not a single live one left now, all that was left were these skeletons.

After proceeding some distance we came across another distinct and huge antelope the Topi or the Hartebeest with its distinctive horns. They are not as common as the Wildebeest and also are solitary creatures. This magnificent specimen posed happily for the 300mm.

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A lone Hartebeest in the Kalahari

As we proceeded along a route which cut across the two river beds we saw another small shape darting from bush to bush. I recognised this as the Steenbok, which is a small antelope we had seen numerous times. But because of its speed and timid nature I hadn’t managed a decent photo. I wasn’t hopeful this time too as the little fellow looked too spooked to stand still. Thankfully he stopped to itch his back and I got a good photo.

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A steenbok stops to itch its back.. Thankfully..

The park is also dotted with huge termite hills which look like huge boulders, unlike the narrow tower like termite hills I had seen elsewhere. We came across a huge one just on the road side that was taller than the land cruiser.

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a huge termite hill in the Kalahari..

As we proceeded towards Nossob camp we got the news of a carcass dragged by a leopard up a tree some distance ahead from a passing car. We reached the spot and saw a few vehicles waiting beneath the tree. Both Thys and Maureen were of the opinion that the leopard won’t return with so much crowd around and we moved on.

As we moved on there were larger herds of Gemsbok than we had seen previously. The regal desert adapted antelope can survive months without a drink and is supremely adapted for desert life. One magnificent male stood guard as the herd had a precious drink at one of the waterholes, a perfect pose for the 300mm.

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The leader stands guard..

We had our lunch pretty late at the next picnic spot and we met a family who had seen a pride of lions some distance away. This was enough motivation for Thys who put on his racer mode and we raced across the dirt road at break neck speed and moved towards the region where the family said they had seen the lions. After half an hour of screeching across the desert we were slowed down by a huge truck which blocked the entire road and was moving at a slow speed. It was a supply truck for the Nossob camp and we had no way past it, which was very infuriating. After the truck gave way at a rare wide part of the road we resumed our race to the lions. We did reach the spot but the lions had moved far away from the road and were visible as small dots through Thys huge binoculars. It was disappointing at the moment as we thought we had lost our chance.

We had to go back to camp as it was getting close to gate closing time and we barely  made it. The first thing we did before we got our chalets was register for the night drive in the region. We freshened up and returned for our night drive to find out we were the only ones braving the cold to go for the drive.

As the sun set for the last time in our trip to the park I realised I hadn’t taken many photos of the famous multicoloured skies at sunset in the Kalahari. I tried to rectify that fault and got some photos of the desert sky.

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The colourful dusk Sky at the Kalahari

We had a pretty dry night safari apart from a Steenbok and a Desert cat and we were returning to the camp when our driver told to look out ahead and stopped the jeep. We saw a lioness striding towards the jeep right on the road. As she came closer we saw two more behind her and they passed by the jeep as if we didn’t exist. Till then I was too fascinated to pullout my secondary point and shoot camera which had a night mode. We were watching the lionesses go when our guide whispered to look ahead. And there were 2 huge males striding towards the Jeep. By now I  had the Camera put and got a grainy night shot. It was a hair raising time as we were in an open jeep totally defenceless if one of them decided we were fair game. We survived to tell the tale & the experience of having these huge creatures pass at touching distance that too without any other human in sight was one we will never forget.

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A grainy night mode shot of the king..

We returned to the camp and excitedly had dinner and went to the other attraction of Nossob. A night shelter connected by a caged tunnel overlooking a waterhole. We met the Burgers sitting there enjoying the experience of watching animals have a drink in peace. We told them of our amazing night drive and they were happy we finally saw lions. We also saw a pack of Jackals playing around with each other and soon it was pretty late. We had a long day ahead and we retired for the day hoping not to dream of being eaten by lions.

The next day morning we were pretty sad as this was our last day at this superb park. Our first sighting was a honey badger a fierce little creature known to fight even lions to protect itself. This little fellow was hunting in tandem with a couple of Goshawks and it was fun watching the group in action.

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A honey badger looks at the intruders

Next we saw another small creature, a desert mouse peeking out from amidst the thorny branches and it shows the spectrum of creatures residing in this harsh environment.

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A desert mouse peeks out ..

As we stopped at a picnic spot Thys called out from near the restrooms and I went to see a pair of shiny colourful lizards called Skinks basking in the sun on the walls of the restrooms. The small creatures were extremely shy and soon moved deep into the wooden walls.

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a lizard / skink basks in the sun

As we moved slowly towards Twee rivierien on our way out of the park we had the mother of all sightings. A pair of young male lions sleeping a few metres from the road. We were the only vehicle in the vicinity and Thys moved the Landcruiser to a elevated part of the road and we waited for them to wake up. In a few minutes one of them woke up and stared straight at us. A moment to savour and captured by the 300mm.

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The prince looks straight at the camera

It was an experience unlike the ones at the other parks I had been to in Africa, in the parks in Kenya or Tanzania or even in Kruger there would be a host of vehicles around these lions. Here we were the only privileged audience. We had a good part of half an hour with the lions. When one walked off the other got up and gave me a regal pose, another good shot for the 300mm

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The other male gives a regal pose for the 300 mm

We reluctantly drove on leaving the lion behind as we had a long way to go. Finally Thys was satisfied. He had finally shown us the great lions of the Kalahari himself and not indirectly through night drives!! We drove on and got good photos of a family of Wildebeest almost waving goodbye.

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A family of Wildebeest.. mom, pop and the kids..

We also passed our last communal weaver nests, another signature sighting of the Kalahari. I was so busy these 4 days photographing the wildlife that I had overlooked these huge structures.

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A huge communal weaver nest.. A signature sighting in the Kalahari

The last new animal we spotted before leaving the park through the Twee Rivierien gate was a red mongoose, a smaller cousin of our neighbour from the tented camp basking in a dead tree trunk and spotted by my expert spotter, my better half.

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A red mongoose basks in the sun

As we drove towards Upington I was glad I had chosen this park over the other parks in South Africa. You may get more sighting in Kruger, greater variety in the East African Parks, but nowhere will you get the solitude and the experience of being alone with the wildlife like in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

We had also had the luck of getting a excellent guiding couple in the Burgers. They had been ever smiling, determined to show us as much as possible and made our stay in this desolate desert very comfortable. They dropped us off at the bus stop for our overnight bus journey to Cape Town made sure we were comfortable in the waiting room and waved us goodbye. That was the last time we saw Maureen as she passed away last year. Thys now works as a ranger at the Mata Mata rest camp and we are in touch thanks to the internet.

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Thys and Maureen Burger..Guides,Cooks and Very nice people

I hope to meet him again and visit the park again someday. I know this post has gotten too long but I needed to do justice to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Hope I have done that!!

Till my next post from another region

Bye.

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3 comments

  1. Beautiful post yogesh. The build up to the lion pics was brilliantly described. I had the same relief and thrill u must have had while seeing the lions at night,not the fear luckily. And the sheer excitement seeing them the next day. Little wonder they are the kings of the jungle

    Like

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