The Kgalagadi…or as some people know it – the Kalahari. The name comes from the Setswana word for “The Great Thirst”. I wouldn’t disagree, especially at this time of year. Its dry, and windy, and very dusty! (Our growing beards seem to be collecting more and more dust…might have to use a vacuum some time!)
This semi-desert conservation region in the north west of Southern Africa stretches over 3,6 million hectares across two countries – South Africa and Botswana. It’s a HUGE area…twice the size of the Kruger National Park, yet the area under conservation is just a tiny fraction of the massive Kalahari Desert, which ranges from Angola and Namibia in the west to Botswana and South Africa in the south and east.
This morning I chatted to Dr Gus Mills – a carnivore research expert based at Twee Rivieren (where we are camping), asking him about his experiences on his current research project, which focuses on the cheetahs in the region.
It’s “one of the last true wilderness areas in the world”, he explained. Gus has lived in the Kgalagadi on and off for forty years. “It’s largely a self-contained system, which looks after itself, with naturally fluctuating animal populations which require very little management. There aren’t many places like that left in the world.”
Gareth and I have been out exploring the park since we arrived, and the two major roads both follow ancient – or fossil – rivers: The Auob and the Nossob, both of which cut their way south through millions of sand dunes. The Auob flowed last in the year 2000, and before that in 1974. On average, it flows once every 50 years. So it’s incredible that this area can sustain so much life. There are plenty of boreholes providing water (some more than 100m deep), but as Gus points out, almost all the animals here could survive without the boreholes: “Every single animal that survives here- except the wildebeest – does not need to drink water ever…they are totally independent of water.”
Because its such a dry area, with no permanent surface water, you won’t find water-dependent creatures like buffalo or elephant. Instead, you’ll see plenty of the majestic and photogenic gemsbok and hundreds of springbok (which once used to roam in their millions across the desert, before farming and fences intruded). (We were incredibly lucky to see a honey badger yesterday morning…they are usually nocturnal and even then are rarely seen.)
According to Gus, the Auob river is perhaps the finest place in the world to see cheetahs…as well as one of the best to see them hunting.
Gus’ cheetah study has proven that the cheetahs in this region are highly successful hunters, and although there are only about 200 across the transfrontier park, their population is viable, stable and healthy. “They’re a low density species,” Gus explained, “with territories that can reach into several thousand square kilometres”.
And so it happened that Gareth and I saw a female cheetah and her three cubs this morning near the Auob River! She was in a bit of a hurry – the strong wind possibly made her skittish. They were moving so quickly that I only managed to get a photo of the mother…the cubs eluded us…but there’s always tomorrow. That’s the wonderful thing! Tomorrow morning, we head out for an early morning walk with one of the rangers…
Thanks very much to Dr Gus Mills for taking the time to chat to us this morning…
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