The Kalahari Desert conjures up images of red sand dunes, dry rivers, wispy grasses, and BIG cats. Although the Kalahrai Park is now called the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (partly in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, hence transfrontier). I like calling it the Kalahari, mostly since Kgalagadi is nearly unpronounceable.
We spent our time in the South African portion. As for cats, did you know there are 38 species of cats on the planet? Most are relatively small. But some—the lion, tiger, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, jaguar, lynx, and cheetah—are big. These big cats are among the most beloved and recognizable animals in the world.
Three of these big cats are prevalent in Kgalagadi park, the lion, the cheetah, and the leopard. During our safari, we barely saw the lions mostly because they were having a lie in. But, we did have an intimate experience with a pair of cheetahs and a leopard. It was just the three of us (Ryan displaying his deft driving skills, Kathryn and I with our cameras hanging out the window) tracking the big cats as they walked along a cliff. It was big-time big game hunting with cameras, quite thrilling.
We started our game drive at the Northern most section of the park (Kalahari Tented Camp) just after 6:30am when the gates open. Our goal was to cross the border into Namibia and finish the day at the Quiver Tree Forest, an extremely long day in the vehicle. We knew we had a five hour drive from our campsite to the Namibian border, then another five hours to the forest. At the start, we were driving a lot less than requisite 60 km/hr, with all the wash boarding we couldn’t go any faster. All three of us spend our time scanning left and then scanning right, looking for movement in the brush. After a couple of hours I hear, “what’s that?!” We are now fixated on a spotted lump in the distance. Ryan says it’s a leopard. A leopard? Wow, this is so cool. “Ryan, drive faster! Let’s ambush him!” We slow down to a crawl, Ryan preferring the predatory stalking approach. He is judging when and where to stop so that we could have clear shots through the bushes. Ryan executes this perfectly. The leopard stops on a rocky outcrop, blue sky in the background. We fire away at our prey, three machine guns aimed right at the leopard. Perfect!
We collect our skins (photos) and continue to follow him. As he walks along the cliffside, we get a perfect side shot of him.
Time is ticking away, we still have 2 1/2 hours to the border. We are definitely going to be late for dinner. The leopard disappears into his home in a cave. We move off, thrilled with our capture, all three of us jabbering about our images. We need to make up some ground, luckily the wash boarding abates a little. “There’s another one!!” Ryan says no, it’s a cheetah. We start the same routine as the leopard. Ryan, doing his thing, Me keeping quiet. He again puts us in prime shooting position. All three of us point our lenses at the cheetah. “Quiet,” Ryan says, “let’s not spook her”. Then, the cheetah stops on top of the hill, how perfect is that.
As the cheetah moves off, she is joined by her cub.
Suffice it to say we were late for dinner. But, we didn’t care, we bagged us two of the big cats the Kalahari has to offer.