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October 11, 2005

Travel Report: Kgalagadi (Gemsbok) Transfrontier Park, SA/Botswana

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A few years ago, my wife Emma and I drove from her home in Gaborone, Botswana, westwards to the Kalahari Gemsbok Park (now renamed the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park). This was part of a longer tour in which we went on to visit Augrabies Falls National Park, the Namaqualand flower fields, Lamberts Bay, Kuruman, and the Karoo. This is a report with photos of the Kalahari leg of the expedition.

The Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa, which has now become the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with its merger with the Gemsbok Park in Botswana across the border, is my favourite of the southern African wildlife reserves. It combines four of my top priorities: full desert with dune fields, big game, raptors, and a diversity of small but fascinating mammals.

After a long drive from Botswana, including a stop in Hotazel (pronounced Hot-as-hell, which is exactly what it is), as we neared the park the dunes began: red, sweeping, burning dunes – not as large as those of Merzouga in the Sahara, but all the same quite sublime. If you have never been to a desert dune-field, imagine yourself at the seaside, but with no sea, no water, no civilisation anywhere to be seen.

Dirt road through the dune fields.

A wind pump in the desolate Kalahari.

But there is life. First of all, the tsama melon with its deep tap root accessing hidden water and swelling into a fruit:

These, and other such drought-defying flora, provides sustainance to an amazing variety of fauna, such as these dune-dwelling ostriches:

A food chain that even extends to the most powerful and hungry of predators:

Our first drive out into the park gave us a dramatic view of these predator-prey interactions:

A hungry cheetah.

A meal wanders over the brow of a dune.

High speed chase between cheetah and springbok.

The springbok is tripped and the killer engages the prey.

In an instant the springbok is converted into a meal.

Not cruelty but necessity, as the cheetah's young join its mother.

But it's not all brutal drama in the sands. A wealth of smaller but equally beautiful creatures can be found, including some superb small carnivores:

Side-striped jackal in the morning desert light.

Jackal portrait.

A group of african wildcats, they actually behaved very much like domestic cats, and at one point walked under our Hilux.

The insectivorous bat-eared fox.

The birdlife is also surprisingly prolific:

A kori bustard.

Blue-cheeked bee-eaters.

We experienced many close-encounters with raptors:

Dark-chanting goshawk.

Pale-chanting goshawk with a kill.

After several nights spent in the park, staying at the good National Parks huts at Nossob and Mata Mata, we left the desert with some great memories, not the least of which was of the gemsbok antelope after which the park is named, to be found deep in the dunes, looking quite majestic: