Tag Archives: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Cheetahs – Natural Born Cullers

On our recent visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we were lucky to see six cheetahs – two with kills and four in a group lying in wait for an unsuspecting Springbok to come into their path.  Unfortunately we didn’t actually witness the kills, but must have arrived shortly after the chase had happened on both occasions.  Cheetahs are the fastest of all animals and can reach speeds of up to 100 kph during a chase.  They prefer to hunt alone, but do also hunt in groups, usually for larger prey.

Natural born culler - a cheetah

On the road between Mata Mata and Twee Rivieren we came across a lone cheetah happily feasting on a Springbok.  Along with a number of other spectators we watched fascinated as the cheetah steadily made its way through the meal.

Cheetah with a kill

Occasionally it would stand up, as if to shift the contents of its stomach to make room for more food.

Standing up to make room for more

We left after about half an hour and when we returned much later, we saw that the cheetah had no intention of  leaving much of its prey for the gathering Black-backed jackals.

Making sure there's not much left

The following day we came across these four beautiful cheetahs that seemed to work in a group to hunt their prey.  They were obviously on the look-out for their next meal, but bush telegraph works very well and the small herd of Springbok about half a kilometer up the valley were keeping wary eyes out for them.  We waited patiently for something to happen, but it obviously wasn’t our day to see an actual kill.

Group of four cheetahs

Driving on the road from Twee Rivieren to Nossob we missed a kill by minutes.  This exhausted cheetah was catching its breath after the chase.

Exhausted after the chase

Once rested, it dragged the Springbok to a more secluded spot.  If we had arrived minutes later we would have missed the sighting altogether.  Talk about good timing … well almost …. as we did miss the kill.

Cheetah dragging a dead Springbok

The African Wild Cat

There’s something special about being in a game reserve and seeing the big cats like lions, leopards and cheetahs and then coming across a little African wild cat.  Wild cats look so much like domestic cats that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the tame, lovable creatures that rule our hearts and homes.  Although they live side by side with their larger cat family members, Wild cats have to be alert and cunning as they are preyed upon by lions and leopards.  Because they’re nocturnal you don’t see them very often, so when you do, it makes the occasion quite memorable.

African wild cat

We’ve come across these cats a few times in the wild.  They’re usually seen at sundown and disappear very quickly when they see humans.  However, on our last two visits to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we were able to spend some time photographing them.  They are mainly terrestrial, especially when hunting rats, mice, spiders and birds, but you actually need to keep an eye out for them in trees, as our most successful sightings have been during the day when they’ve found a nice spot on a branch to sleep on.  If you’re very lucky, they will lie there warily watching you without running off.  Our biggest problem was not being able to get out of the car to get close enough for a decent photograph.

African wild cat

Wild cats are solitary animals that only get together to mate and a successful copulation results in a pregnancy lasting about two months.  Breeding takes place throughout the year, peaking during the summer months, and litters usually comprise of two to five kittens.

African wild cat

African wild cats (Felis lybica) are greyish in colour with stripes on the legs and tail, and the females are slightly smaller than the males.  They’re found throughout the region.

African wild cat

 

The Meerkats of the Kalahari

Who hasn’t seen the delightful TV documentary series “Meerkat Manor” put on by Animal Planet about seven years ago and wanted to see these funny smiley little mammals in the flesh?  We camped recently on the farm Terra Rouge on the Namibian side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and were amused to see that the owners named the campsite area “Meerkat Manor”because of the abundance of suricates.  They claimed to have many clans living on the farm, but although there was evidence of their burrows, they were nowhere to be seen until we drove out of the farm gate and found some watching the world go by on the main road to Mata Mata!

A clan of meerkats on the road to Mata Mata

The sandy terrain of the Kalahari is the ideal habitat for meerkats or suricates (Suricata suricatta) as they live underground in shallow communicated burrows accessed by a network of tunnels.  These living quarters are often shared with ground squirrels and mongooses and the odd snake that preys on their young!  They emerge from these burrows during the day to warm themselves after a cold Kalahari night and to forage for food in the form of insects, birds eggs, bulbs and small invertebrates.   They are perfectly adapted for burrowing and foraging as they have long claws on the ends of their toes.

Typical pose of sentries

Because of all the hazards of living in an environment where others want to eat them, meerkats have to be on guard all the time to protect themselves.  They never stray far from their burrows whilst socializing or hunting.  Sentries are strategically posted and by standing upright on two legs, supported by their strong tails, they keep a look out for predators and warn the clan with a series of alarm calls.  The clan then hides underground until the sentries give them the all-clear to resurface.  Sentry duty lasts for about an hour at a time.

A lone meerkat on sentry duty

Gangs comprise of up to thirty members (sometimes more), mostly all related to the alpha male and female of the group who scent-mark them to establish authority and territory.  They can breed up to four times a year, having between three and five babies at a time.  The young surface from the burrows at about three weeks of age and are then afforded protection by the others in the clan.  Females without young are able to lactate to assist with the rearing of the pups.

Wondering if humans posed a danger

Suricates are sociable creatures that spend a lot of time grooming and licking each other.  They also spend much of their day teaching pups how to hunt and forage for food, and they like to play with each other.  In spite of their obvious bonding in clans, they can also be quite vicious towards each other, killing off unwanted family members at certain times.  They can live up to seven years in the wild and much longer in captivity.

A lone meerkat on sentry duty

Meerkats are members of the mongoose family.

The day of the mouse!

You don’t have to spend very long in a game reserve or park to realize that it a very treacherous environment for the four-legged, two-legged and even the legless inhabitants. With very few exceptions, almost every animal or bird or reptile is on some other animal’s or bird’s or reptile’s menu. Take the mouse as an example.

Mouse

Recently we spent four days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a wonderful experience (except for the state of the roads – corrugations to test the strength of the cement anchoring your dental fillings). The larger animals are, as always, the dramatic drawcard, but we noticed that mice are also fairly common and several times we watched them feeding in the branches of shrubs at the side of the road or scurrying about in the sparse vegetation.

In quick succession, though, we were exposed to the dangers that these little rodents face throughout their lives. First we happened upon a Pale chanting goshawk perched on a dead branch quite near the road, feeding on a mouse or rat. He (or she) took just a minute or two to rip the rodent into pieces and bolt these down with hardly a pause.

Southern pale chanting goshawk Southern pale chanting goshawk

We moved on and quite soon stopped to watch a Secretarybird hunting. He (or she) pounced forward and stamped his (or her) feet enthusiastically on something that was hidden from us in the long grass. He (or she) stooped and came up with a mouse, holding it rather daintily in his (or her) bill. The little rodent was swallowed quickly in one piece and there was nothing dainty about that.

Secretarybird Secretarybird

On we drove, and literally within minutes spotted a Black-headed heron in the dry scrubland. We stopped to watch as we are far more accustomed to seeing these large birds at rivers and dams, but there were no rivers or dams anywhere near this spot. We had seen a Black-headed heron at a small artificial waterhole a little earlier and had idly wondered what it found there to feed on. The bird we stopped to watch in the arid scrub had caught a Striped mouse, and within a few seconds had swallowed it whole. One second the mouse was in the heron’s bill (presumable dead), and the next it was gone. Well, not entirely, for just another second the short end of its tale hung from the heron’s bill. Then it was gone.

Black-headed heron Black-headed heron

Three mice taken by three different species of birds within just a few hours, and just within our limited view. What is the daily total within the vast area of the whole park?

Each time we look at the mice we photographed during that visit to Kgalagadi we wonder where they are now…

 

 

The Big Five : Part 3 – African Lions

I started my Big Five blogs with articles about leopards and buffalo.  Today is the turn of the mighty lion – one of the most impressive animals in Africa.  We’ve been fortunate enough to spend holidays in Botswana’s national parks, as well as Etosha, Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, all of which have magnificent prides of African lions.  One of the most exciting things when camping in the wild, is to lie in bed at night and hear the deep roar of a lion.  They can be heard from up to five kilometers away, but it sounds closer and that booming roar always sends a tingle up my spine.

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Lions are sociable animals, living in prides of ten or more lions.  The male is the great protector of his pride and he usually has a number of lionesses in his harem, all related, that take care of the hunting and the provision of food.  The females work in unison once they decide on which animal they are stalking and they plan their attack from all fronts.  Once the animal is downed, the male then comes in to eat first, followed by the females and lastly the cubs.

    Getting stuck in to the kill

You can read all about a lion kill that we came across in the Central Kalahari by clicking here.  It was so exciting to be able to park the car meters away from the feeding lions and spend many hours watching the drama of hierarchy unfold as they all got stuck into their meal.  Lions can eat up to 18 kgs of meat at a time, which is probably why, once sated, they sleep for the next twenty hours or so.  They mainly kill at night and then sleep off their excesses during the heat of the day.  Look at the size of the full belly of this lioness after she had gorged herself on an Oryx – she lay on her back with her legs in the air for hours afterwards.

    Pull your tummy in its disgusting!

Females usually have between two and four cubs that are born after a gestation period of one hundred and ten days.  They mate all year around and once the cubs are born they are protected and fed by all the lionesses in the pride.  They love to romp and play and are very affectionate towards one another, although male lions have been known to kill their own cubs under certain circumstances.

    My favourite cub picture!

Lionesses take up to four years to reach their adult size, whilst male lions mature after six years.  Males develop a beautiful mane around their necks which makes the sexes easily identifiable.  In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park one can see the red-maned lions which are very impressive.  Even more so when you see them on red sand dunes! They can live up to fifteen years in the wild, although this is not really common as they fight continually with competitors in both the lion and predator arena.

    Red-maned lion in Kgalagadi

Lions are also known as Panthera leo from the family Felidae.

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Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3

We changed campsites three times at Rooiputs as we couldn’t get bookings at one particular site for the whole duration of our stay.  In fact very often the campsites were purported to be fully booked and we ended up being the only campers there.  Travel agents apparently make block bookings and then fail to come with clients.  This is unfortunate as people are turned away when in fact there are sites standing empty.

The birdlife around the campsite was always interesting.  Rob managed to track down the Barn Owl that we had found in the A-frame.  It had taken up residence in a nearby tree, obviously not planning to come back until we had left.

Barn Owl
Another lovely bird to photograph is the little Pygmy falcon that is so prevalent in the Park.

Pygmy falcon

We had a very productive game drive on our last afternoon of the holiday.  We took a drive a short way past the Kij Kij waterhole and Rob spotted an African wild cat (Felis lybica)  in a tree.   (How he  saw it amongst all those branches is still a mystery!)  These wild cats, that closely resemble domestic tabby cats, are mostly nocturnal, which made our daytime sighting all the more gratifying.

African wild cat

On the same drive we came across a pair of Tawny Eagles in a tree, which we photographed.  We later found out that they had caught a snake, that can be seen pinned under the foot of one of the eagles.  Amazing what one could miss with the naked eye!

Tawny eagles with a snake

Another bonus was a Honey Badger, known in Afrikaans as a ratel (Mellivora capensis).  The Honey Badger, which gives off a foul smell like a polecat when threatened, is tough and aggressive, so has few enemies.  They mainly hunt at night, but are often seen in the early morning or evening.  Their gait is rolling and they keep their noses close to the ground as they hunt for food – bees, honey, fruit, scorpions and reptiles.

Honey badger

We saw literally dozens of leopard tortoises in the Park.  This tiny one was battling to climb to safety from the road.

Tiny tortoise

Everyone knows that awful feeling when a wonderful holiday has come to an end.  The sadness at knowing that we’d be leaving behind wonderful friends, amazing birds and animals and the freedom of the great outdoors.  Our special evenings around the campfire chatting about the day’s sightings would be sorely missed, as would the jovial sundowner times at our various ‘lone tree pubs’ out in the bush.  But we had so much to be grateful for and we always had next year to look forward to – wherever the next adventure would be.

Sunset through the A-frame

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is truly one of Africa’s great game reserves.  If you have the right vehicle and don’t mind bad roads, then it really deserves to be on your list of ‘must do’s’.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1 | Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2 |
Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3 | Trips

Botswana 2010: Union’s End

I find that one of the special joys of travel is to visit places that I heard about or read about as a relative youngster. I got a great kick, while visiting the UK, to walk down Harley Street and Fleet Street; seeing Buckingham Palace, and specially finding that “Banbury Cross” actually exists. I find that I am seldom disappointed, as the attraction is just in being there rather than in the expectation of finding something outstanding.
And so it was very easy to make the decision to take the 60-odd kilometre drive from Polentswa to visit the point located at 24o 45’ 55.3” South, 19 o 59’ 58.7” East, the point known as Union’s End, the extreme north-westerly point of South Africa.
The drive from Polentswa in the early morning was an absolute treat, with a brief sighting of a leopard no more than ten metres from the car. We watched a group of four bat-eared foxes as they hunted happily in an open field and were treated to the sight of five magnificent lilac-breasted rollers on a single dried tree stump. Then there were the wildebeest, gemsbok and springbok in large herds. And a lone meerkat that played sentry on a tree stump near his home.
Union’s End. Even the name is an anachronism; South Africa ceased to be a “Union” and became a “Republic” on 31 May 1961. But the name has been retained for this, the northernmost point of South Africa; the point where South Africa meets two of its neighbours, Namibia and Botswana, at the same spot. This is also the spot where the Nossob River (or river bed, really – it is dry for the greater part of its existence) crosses from Namibia into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and wanders its waterless way for 200 kilometres through the park, officially dividing South Africa from Botswana. It gives its name to the Nossob Camp and later, shortly after its confluence with the Auob River (also dry), it contributes to the names of another two camps, Twee Rivieren in South Africa and Two Rivers in Botswana.
But back to Union’s End.
The point where the three countries meet is marked by a small information board, a pole bearing the longitude and latitude of the spot and nothing else. Namibia is fenced off from Botswana and South Africa, but, as the spot lies in the transfrontier park, there is no fence between Botswana and South Africa at this point. The centre of the Nossob, which is the boundary between the two countries, is marked at intervals by cement bollards with “RSA” and “RB” etched on the appropriate sides.
The South African section of the transfrontier park was previously known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and was established way back in 1931. According to the information boards, the earliest activity at Union’s End took place in the mid 1930s. Imagine what the area must have been like those 75-odd years ago! Imagine how difficult it must have been to reach, and yet there was already a problem with poachers. There was a plan to establish a border patrol post here in 1934 in order to control poaching, but insufficient funds were forthcoming and the post never materialized.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was established in 2000 when the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in RSA was merged with the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.