Thursday, 14 April 2011

Satan and the cheetah cubs- Kalahari part 2

We had booked three nights in a camp we had never visited before, called Grootkolk. Grootkolk is in the far north of the South African side of the Kgalagadi National Park, only about 28 kilometers from Unions End. We were incredibly excited to be spending time in this area, as not much is as exhilarating as driving roads you have never driven before. We arrived at around 3 pm and were welcomed by Marius, the camp assistant, to GK. It turned out that we would be the only ones in camp that night, and for the following two days only one other car would be joining. This was an absolute treat! As I have said before, the beauty of the wilderness camps is that there are only four huts, and so in the morning you have a lot of time alone on the road. But with only two of us, it meant that any sighting could be easily shared and enjoyed!

After unpacking we only had a couple of hours until sunset, so we set off north to see what we could find. The drive seemed to be going very slowly, mostly because we were exhausted from a full day of staring into the sun as we drove. We turned around at the Unions End waterhole, and headed back to camp. All of a sudden, there it was next to the road- a beautiful Kalahari Leopard! Finally! We have only seen one once before, but it was such a brief sighting, so we were very excited. Unfortunately though, the leopard was heading away from the road, hunting a herd of springbok and wildebeest.


 A little way behind the main herd was a young wildebeest which had a broken leg. Its one of the saddest sights ever, the little one calling and calling and trying to walk knowing his only chance of survival is to keep up with the others. We were sure he would end up as this sleek cats dinner, but the cat seemed not to have noticed him. After about 30 minuted we had completely lost sight of the leopard in the grass, and we had 25 minutes to get back to camp, 25 minutes away. Amazingly, we actually saw the calf with the broken leg the following day, still with the herd. Sadly he is sure to be killed eventually, as the Kalahari is very unforgiving of weakness.

The sun set a beautiful pink colour that night, only a few clouds in the sky, all lined with red, as we 'hurried' (40km per hour) back to camp. About 500 meters from the camp turn off we came across a lioness sitting in the road, peering over the bushes and watching a wildebeest about 20 meters away. Another potential kill, and still we had no time! As we skirted slowly past the lioness, I looked back and saw 3 smaller faces sitting in a row concealed in the bushes, staring back at me.We fell asleep that night listening to the sounds of barking gecko's and a nervous herd of wildebeest trying to work up the courage to have a drink at the Grootkolk waterhole.

The morning drive was slow again, and the only interesting sighting was a puffadder making his way across the road. The colours of this snake make it one of the most beautiful in my opinion. That said, I never want to encounter one unless I'm safely tucked away in a vehicle.

The long grass

We did however get to visit Unions End, the place where Botswana, Namibia and South Africa meet. We filled in our names and a comment in the visitors book, and then turned around. The afternoon drive was, however, very different! We took a slow drive south, to Kannaguass waterhole, which had become more like Kannaguass lake. The whole road was full of water, and the waterhole held so little in comparison, that I'm it was not being used. We did however see a pretty ferocious fight between two Gemsbok, the one nearly being pushed over by the other. Those horns could do some serious damage I am sure! We also saw a Cheetah in the distance, and waited for an age for him to come and drink, but as he never did, we turned around and headed north.

That was a very good decision! Near Geinab waterhole, we saw a lot of vultures gathered in a few trees. Always a promising sign. Having a scan, we saw a female cheetah on a springbok kill. And what was that behind her? Two Cubs? They were so cute! They looked to be around 4 or 5 months old, and very fluffy. This is where we spent the rest of the afternoon, of course, where else would we rather be?

The cubs were feeding and the mother was resting, as the kill seemed very fresh and it takes a while for her to be able to eat properly after such a chase. There were also two jackals hanging around. The cubs were not impressed at all by this, and would frequently snarl and make little growl like sounds at the Jackal. Surrounded by tiny white flowers the cubs looked so beautiful and innocent.

 The one cub, presumably a male as he seemed a lot more dominant that the other, decided he was going to have a little stand off with the jackal. He made his way over to them, growling as he went. When the jackal didn't run, he put his front paws on a small twig to make himself look bigger! It was very comical and a delight to watch.

King of the Castle

 As evening drew nearer, the mother Cheetah had had enough of the Jackal and began to stalk the one. When she took off after it, the jackal most likely only escaped with his life because the sounds of killing him would have alerted to many other predators, and she needed to protect the kill and cubs. It was beautiful to watch her at full tilt chasing down the jackal until she had her paw on his tail at which point she let him be. The braver cub followed her slowly as if to say 'watch out, thats what my mummy can do, and I can do the same!'. (my interpretation, but seemed pretty accurate at the time...)


It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon and we only left when it got so late that we had to in order to make it to the gate on time.

Last rays of sunlight

The following day was our last full day at Grootkolk. It started off well though, with a lovely male lion roaring a little way off the road. We sat and listened to him and the sun rose painting everything around us in an orange glow. We called this lion Satan. If any of you has read 'Cry of the Kalahari' by Mark and Delia Owens, you will recognise the eyes of this lion from the front cover picture of Satan, one of the males they studied. If you have not read this book- do. It is so well written, it makes you want to give up this life, and live one more like theirs, studying a place as beautiful as the Central Kalahari. It is very emotive, and I highly recommend it. You will see why else he reminds me of Satan further on.

Further up the road we found a lioness, but she was slowly moving away so we left for  Unions End waterhole where we planned to sit a while and wait for the Sandgrouse to come and drink. Shortly after arriving there, we poured ourselves a good cup of Iced coffee we had made the night before, and I nearly shouted out in surprise. Coming through the long grass toward us was the beautiful bobbing head of a brown hyena. He was completely unafraid of us, and continued to make his way right up to the waters edge where he quenched his thirst for a good ten minutes. Those that know me well, know I have such a  soft spot for brown hyena. I think they are absolutely beautiful, with their stripy legs and shaggy coats. For me, this was as good as it could be.

After he left, back the way he had come, I was literally shaking with excitement! The sandgrouse too did eventually come, but not in huge numbers as we had hoped.

After that start to the morning we were happy to return to camp for an early lunch and a little snooze before the afternoon drive. Lunch/ Breakfast was my speciality- Pan Pizza. It was discovered on a difficult and hot camping trip to Namibia a couple of years ago with Dan and Romy, and had remained with us to this day. Often in the bush, the one thing I really crave is pizza. This certainly fills the hole, plus its easy enough to make!

The afternoon drive brought us a new bird, the Melanistic Gabar Goshawk who was flitting about the road. We could ID him as in the morning we had been discussing birds of prey, their Afrikaans names and the differences between Gosawks, Falcons and Kestrels, using the Sasol Bird guide as exactly that, a guide. Dan had noticed the Gabar in the book specifically, and had been wondering how on earth one would identify it as a Gabar Goshawk as opposed to some other black bird. Well, now he knew!

Not far on we saw a sight that gave me the same thrill as seeing an animal for the first time. It is often so unexpected and yet is such an incredible feeling, being 'thrilled' by nature. It's moments like these where I feel I am on Safari for the first time again, seeing everything through new eyes. It was a male leopard who slowly crept across the road and disappeared behind a bush, lying down in on the other side. Doesn't sound that great, does it? But this leopard was the hugest leopard I have ever seen. I actually had to do a double take and check he had spots. He was easily the size of a lioness, with a huge brute- like head, and giant body. I immediately got the adrenalin shakes, something I don't get too often. He was at least 40% bigger than any other male I have seen, even the large Sabi Sands ones such as Tjellehanga Male. He was huge! That night after a very memorable sunset we headed back into camp for some steak and potato's and to listen to the sounds of nature all around us. It's awesome how much there is to hear when there are no other sounds around to spoil it. I fell asleep smiling to myself, that leopard was HUGE!
Sunrise at Grootkolk

Our last morning at GK we woke up extra early and packed up the car before eating some Milo cereal and heading out. Just outside camp we stopped to admire the sunrise as it rose behind some clouds. Then we turned north and drove straight into Satan. He was lying next to the road with two female lions, one who had a porcupine quill stuck in her jaw. He looked at us with those eyes, full of displeasure. The females were indifferent to us, and continued grooming themselves in the road. Both jumped up all of a sudden and began to stalk, eventually having to give up when the wildebeest saw them and alarmed call.

Satan then crossed the road and lay down again, but not like a normal lion, who looks half asleep. Satan lay down, back legs under his body in the pounce position, facing us, eyes alert and tail slowly twitching from side to side. We had not parked near to him at all, and he had moved, not us. But this male lion was still wild, and uninfluenced by people, which was a real treat. Only downside was that we could not relax either. That black tip of the tail flicking was a definite warning, so we needed to stay alert. We backed off slightly, but this in no way changed his behaviour.

A few hours later, and the sun was now getting hot and the lionesses moved to within a meter of our car and lay down. The only other vehicle in camp had left by now, so we were parked at an angle across the road, which has high banks, so we couldn't move without disturbing them. We therefore decided to stay put, as they had come to us, and were not showing any interest in us. They were actually sleeping. Then Satan came over, eyes full of fury and lay down within two meters of the car. This was a different story, and we closed the windows just in case. Never have I seen a lion so alert in all my life. Even when he lay flat down, if you looked through the binoculars you could see his eyes wide, staring right back at you. After a while we decided it would be better to leave them in peace, plus we needed to get to Gharagab!


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