African Wildlife

Kgalagadi national park

This is my favourite South African national park,and although I tend not to revisit holiday destinations (there are so many other places I still want to see) I just cannot stay away from the Kgalagadi.

My most recent visit was in October 2011, following my previous visit in September 2009. This was a very short visit, but still very rewarding. We had very nice sighthings of both lions with cubs and cheetahs with cubs. As last time we stayed in some of the unfenced campgrounds on the Botswana side of the Nossob river, and having lions sniffing around your tent at night really adds to the feeling of adventure! On our first night in September 2009 the lions caught a Blue Wildebeest calf right in the camp.

If you want to experience this you may have to hurry, as rumour has it that some of the best campgrounds are to be closed to make way for lodges.

You can view photos from my latest visit here and from the 2009 visit here or you can view photos from my 2008 visit.

A gallery that includes photos taken in the Kruger National Park and adjacent private reserves, as well as photos from previous visits to Kgalagadi, can be found here.

Kgalagadi is a 3.6 million hectare transfrontier park that straddles part of the border between South Africa and Botswana. It is situated in an arid area of the subcontinent, which can be classed as desert to semi-desert. The rivers in the park are mostly dry - the Nossob river only flowed twice during the 20th century! When no water is available elsewhere, many grazing animals rely on water holes in the river beds. This in turn attracts large predators. Combined with the relatively open terrain, this means that the park offers excellent opportunities to view predators, especially lion and cheetah.

Lions mating

Kgalagadi offers excellent viewing of large predators, such as lion.

In my view the best times to visit are in the winter or spring. Summers can be very hot. Because the park is in a summer rainfall area, winters are better for game viewing as the animals are more reliant on the water holes and are therefore easier to find. In a wet year you may also encounter significant numbers of mosquitoes, moths, and other bugs in summer. The upside of a summer visit is that it will be greener (in a good rain year it may not look like a desert at all) and you may see spectacular thunder storms.

Cheetah inspecting a scent marking post

The open river beds provide good cheetah habitat. Here a male cheetah inspects a scent marking post.

Kgalagadi is one of the few national parks in South Africa that offer a true wilderness experience, via small unfenced rest camps on the South African side (4 units each, with a maximum of 8 visitors) and unfenced camp sites on the Botswana side. On our last night camping on the Botswana side during the 2008 visit we were the only people in a radius of about 80km. The sheer size of the park, combined with smaller numbers of visitors, makes it feel less crowded than many other parks. If you are lucky you may even be the only vehicle at a "sighting", particularly if you visit the more remote areas of the park.

One word of warning: The roads in the park are often in a very bad condition, and it is advisable to travel in a "bakkie" or 4x4.

Kruger national park

South Africa's Kruger national park is world famous, and rightly so. This popularity does have its drawbacks, as it is difficult to have a true "wilderness experience" and especially in the south of the park you are likely to encounter a traffic jam around any significant sighting. More vegetation also makes photography more challenging than in the Kgalagadi (see below) as you will often have to contend with branches and other vegetation in front of your subjects.

On the Plus side the park offers the widest variety of animals in any South African national park, and the roads are generally in a good condition. If you want to get away from the crowds the north of the park is a good bet.

Among the challenges the park faces are a serious overpopulation of elephants (after culling was stopped for political reasons). This is starting to have a significant impact on vegetation and - potentially - other animals. Culling may be resumed soon. Most of the major rivers in the park originate outside the park, so pollution and alien vegetation also pose problems. A number of crocodiles in the Olifants river recently died in what is thought to be a pollution related incident.

A flash based gallery of photos from my recent visit can be found here, an html based gallery here, and one including photos from previous trips here.

For more information on Kgalagadi and other South African national parks you can visit the Sanparks website. (There is a link on the links page of this site.)