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An Authentic South African Safari - Kgalagadi, Nylsvley, Northern Kruger and Ezemvelo

Kgalagadi Nylsvley Kruger Ezemvelo

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#1 Safaridude

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 07:47 PM

We safaristas are spoiled.  We expect the Africa Big Five “served on a plate”.  Not to mention three gourmet meals a day.  All in high-spec, designer’s designer-designed camps attended by staff outnumbering guests.  “Medium rare please”, we say when asked how we like our steak.

 

But there is another safari world – one that has been unceremoniously perfected by South Africans.  No, not one involving a Singita or a Londolozi.  It is more of a DIY, long-weekend getaway than safari, as we know it.  The essential elements include your entire family (no matter the ages of your children), your own 4x4 vehicle, the latest camping gadgets advertised in Getaway Magazine, and camping grounds or bungalows in one of the many parks and reserves of South Africa.  It is more religion than holiday.  It is decisively Afrikaner.  And damn it, you cook your own meat!

 

Embracing the “when in Rome…” concept, I book a local ground operator (with the help of Ngoko Safaris) for an authentic South African safari involving long drives between the various self-service bungalow-type accommodations offered by the parks and reserves.  Admittedly, the “when in Rome…” concept erodes significantly from there.  The driver/guide would do much of the cooking, and a few meals would be taken at camp restaurants.  Local camp staff would clean your room every day.  I even enlist Ngoko Safaris’ Benson Siyawareva (the superb, eagle-eyed, encyclopedic, lovable one) for the fourth time to guide.  Okay, okay, so it’s only a sort of a, kind of a DIY trip.  I would, however, hang around the braai fire just to pretend I was participating in cooking the meat.

 

 

Itinerary:

 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

 

            Twee Rivieren Rest Camp – 1 night

            Kalahari Tented Camp – 2 nights

            Nossob Rest Camp – 1 night

            Gharagab Wilderness Camp – 2 nights

            Nossob Rest Camp – 1 night

 

Nylsvley Nature Reserve

 

            Cottages – 2 nights

 

Kruger National Park

 

            Punda Maria Rest Camp – 3 nights

            Mopani Rest Camp – 2 nights

 

Plus - Ezemvelo Nature Reserve (an afternoon visit at the start of the trip)


Edited by Safaridude, 24 May 2013 - 08:18 PM.


#2 Panthera Pardus

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 08:01 PM

Looking forward to this @Safaridude

 

You got in Nylvley too :)



#3 Safaridude

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 08:12 PM

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
 
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Kgalagadi) is a result of a treaty in 1999 between Botswana and South Africa to link Botswanas Gemsbok National Park and South Africas Kalahari Gemsbok National Park under a unified name, creating the first transfrontier protected area in Africa.  While the Botswana side of Kgalagadi is flat and bears resemblances to Botswanas Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the South Africa side of Kgalagadi is endowed with unique, spectacular dunes, which run roughly parallel northwest to southeast, appearing as ocean ripples when viewed from the sky, as well as two fossilized rivers with rich grazing (the Auob in the west and the Nossob in the east) where animals concentrate during the rains.
 
If Kruger is about the Big Five, Kgalagadi is about the All Thousands.  Every creature or plant has a story to tell here.  Fascinating survival strategies play out during elongated dry stretches in this desert; and frenetic flowering, germinating, seeding, mating and calving play out during the fleeting rains.  It is a place where learning about the life-giving tsama melon or listening to the sounds of barking geckos at dusk can be just as rewarding as seeing the famous Kgalagadi black-maned lion.  For the true nature lover, if Kruger is beloved, Kgalagadi is beloved fiercely.
 
Not that weather is ever predictable in Kgalagadi, I come to Kgalgadi in a very unusual year (my first visit in April 2008 was during a normal year).  The rains, which fall mostly between December and April, started the season okay, but then stopped entirely.  Virtually no rains were recorded from mid-January through late March, just the time when all creatures and plants rely on the ephemeral moisture to recover and propagate.  Just when it looked like a drought disaster (inherent and periodic in Kgalagadi) was looming, heavens opened up at the end of March for a 4-5 day stretch.  More rains than the entire annual precipitation average doused Kgalagadi during those few days.
 
Benson and I are picked up at the modern Upington Airport by Natasha Iles of Afrifriends, a Johannesburg-based tour operator.  Natasha has already purchased the necessary provisions for the next several days and has packed much of them on the roof rack of the 4x4, my real home of the next week.  We arrive into Twee Rivieren (the park headquarters and the point at which the two riverbeds meet), where one must register (the process is somewhat more complicated than simply purchasing gate tickets), in time for a short game run, but the real thing would begin the next morning on our 100 km trek northwest up the Auob riverbed.
 
 
The Auob Riverbed
 
Note:  for reference, here is the official map of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - http://www.sanparks....l_parkmap08.jpg
 
The Auob riverbed is a place of sensual orange-hued sand dunes (orange-hued due to the presence of iron oxide).  The dune crests are accentuated by wispy bushman grass, not only characteristic of Kgalagadi but also efficient binders of the otherwise loose orange soil.  The riverbed itself bisects these rises and is very narrow in places, creating an intimate amphitheater feel.  Many camelthorn trees, live and dead, accommodate huge sociable weaver nests, some of which cloak nearly all the branches.
 
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Dunes on the Auob
 
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Camelthorn
 
The first stretch of several kilometers from Twee Rivieren is thick with driedoring bushes (springboks are fond of driedoring usually only when flowering).  Then the riverbed begins to open up, and herds of springboks and wildebeests begin to appear.   Small groups of gemsboks are joined by even smaller groups of red hartebeests (gemsboks are more numerous on the Nossob as they are thought to favor the more mineralized water found there; red hartebeests are also more numerous on the Nossob).  These four major antelope species (springbok, wildebeest, gemsbok and red hartebeest) prefer to feed on the nutritious riverbed grass during the rains and disperse into the dunes in search of food when the riverbed graze is exhausted (though wildebeests tend to remain close to the artificial watering points on the riverbeds).  There are very few calves around, and most of the antelopes are noticeably thin, with protruding ribs.  Though torrential rains three weeks ago have greened Kgalagadi up, the vegetation appears drier and sparser than it was during my previous visit in April 2008.  Having just survived a stressful period, the antelopes have only a few more weeks to fatten up before the arrival of frost, which retards grass growth.  There is a sense of urgency in their frantic grazing.
 
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Springbok herd
 
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Springbok ram
 
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Gemsbok
 
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Wildebeest
 
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Red hartebeest
 
North of Kamqua all the way up to Mata-Mata, the game density grows, and the dunes become even more spectacularly orange.  Springbok herds are now sizeable.  Springbok rams hold territories all along the Auob.  They are spaced out about a kilometer apart, corralling as many passing-through females as they can and jealously guarding their ranges against male intruders.  Before the heat of the day, one can count on seeing springboks pronking.  The latter part of Antidorcas marsupialis becomes self-explanatory as they display their pouchy white dorsal plume while pronking.  The narrow riverbed with irresistible grazing for the springboks and dune rises offering a hunters eye view provide for a perfect cheetah habitat.  In fact, the Auob riverbed is reputed to be one of the best places in Africa to observe cheetahs.  One afternoon near Sitsas, Benson does his typical eagle-eye thing and spots a cheetah mother and three large cubs several hundred meters away on a dune on the opposite side of the riverbed.  There are a few springboks on the riverbed below grazing, but the cheetah mother is locked in on something else on the dune.  We wait patiently for what seems like days, and our patience is rewarded sort of.  The hunt is successful as the mother sprints and pounces on something.  But that something kill takes place at a bend of the dune obscured by heavy vegetation:  dust, shadowy shapes flying, then the springboks on the riverbed below all looking in the direction of the kill and alarm-calling with disdain all happening in a flash.  The now dead something is dragged away into even thicker bush and consumed in private.
 
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Springboks at sunset
 
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Mother cheetah locked in on its prey
 
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One of the cubs following her
 
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The start of her hunt
 
Kalahari Tented Camp is our home on the Auob.  Only a 5-minute drive from the more conventional rest camp, Mata-Mata, Kalahari Tented Camp is a gem.  The camp is perched atop a dune, allowing for a panoramic view of the riverbed.  Tents are moderately smart (all you need), and each unit is equipped with a braai (of course!), an outdoor garage shed, and a separate, detached kitchen unit (DIY!).  Hyenas and jackals are frequent visitors (mostly looking for rubbish), and each unit is gated for protection.  It being one of the smaller camps, night light pollution is no issue:  stargazing is superb.
 
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A bird's eye view of Kalahari Tented Camp
 
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Tent unit
 
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Inside
 
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A starlit night at Kalahari Tented Camp
 
Back on the Auob riverbed, several giraffes browse near Mata-Mata.  They are a result of a successful reintroduction effort.  Giraffes disappeared from Kgalagadi in the 1930s due to overhunting.  The last giraffe was supposedly shot and dragged across to Botswana (a waterhole on the Nossob side named Kameelsleep, which means giraffe drag in Afrikaans, commemorates this supposed event).  Black-backed jackals are easily the most commonly seen predator, but the rarely seen African wildcat makes an appearance sitting nonchalantly on a camelthorn branch.
 
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Giraffes at sunset
 
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Black-backed jackal
 
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African wildcat
 
Our final morning on the Auob turns out to be our lion day.   A lone lioness wanders by Craig Lockhart (yes, a Scottish name for a waterhole), only to find it dry.  And near Veertiende Boorgat, five lions are on a fresh wildebeest kill right on the road.  They have already had their fill and begin heading for water, but several jackals appear out of nowhere.  A couple of the lions make a U-turn to guard their kill against any mischief.
 
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Wildebeest carcass
 
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Spending only two nights on the Auob is almost criminally too short.  Its just as bad to leave behind the lion-jackal interaction, but the Nossob beckons and a long trip through the dunes is required.  We begin climbing the dunes in our 4x4 to check out the other side.
 
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Meerkat family
 
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Gemsbok reflection
 
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Ostrich
 
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Early evening on the Auob
 
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Moonrise at Kalahari Tented Camp

#4 michael-ibk

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 08:21 PM

@Safaridude

 

Just fantastic. Superbly written, and wonderful photos. 



#5 Panthera Pardus

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 08:31 PM

Great narrative and images.



#6 AKR1

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 09:08 PM

Welcome back K. Superb report as usual. Particularly like the Giraffe silhouettes, African Wildcat and Moonrise shots.

#7 Paolo

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 09:31 PM

A great start to another predictably super-brilliant report!

#8 penolva

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 11:43 PM

I am enthralled :)

#9 africapurohit

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Posted 24 May 2013 - 11:47 PM

As usual, a bundle of entertainment and education!



#10 Treepol

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 05:22 AM

Really enjoying your report Safaridude, the  photos are superb. My favourites (so far!) are the  sunlit meerkats, the AWC and the sunset giraffes.


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#11 Anita

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 07:13 AM

Wonderful stuff Safaridude...look forward to more



#12 madaboutcheetah

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 08:41 AM

Thanks for this super report, safaridude - look forward to the reading the rest of the report.


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Botswana in my blood .......

#13 Safaridude

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 01:56 PM

Thanks all for your kind comments.  @Treepol - took me a bit to figure out what AWC is... duh!



#14 twaffle

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 09:44 PM

Brilliant! Could handle a week in the Kgalagadi just now.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#15 PT123

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 09:59 PM

Great start, can't wait for more!



#16 Safaridude

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 11:32 PM

Thanks Twaffle for fixing "gekko" to "gecko" in my post.  "Gekko" would be Gordon Gekko from the movie "Wall Street"!  Maybe he barks too!



#17 Safaridude

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 11:56 PM

The Nossob Riverbed

 

If Auob is the pretty one, Nossob is its muscular cousin.  Here, the riverbed is wider, horizons more distant, the dunes flatter but more rugged, and birds of prey and gemsbok cavalries more numerous.

 

Near Twee Rivieren, blue pea bushes and the rocky, calcareous eastern wall of the riverbed remind one of traveling through the Sonoran desert.  It should be said here that there are parts of the Nossob Road where bushes (predominantly blue pea near Twee Rivieren and driedoring elsewhere) reach vehicle window level on both sides of the road, annoyingly obscuring visibility.  The silver lining is that it does provide for peering portrait photo opportunities.

 

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The eastern wall of the Nossob riverbed

 

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Red hartebeests through the driedoring

 

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Ostriches

 

Near Leeuwdrill, a couple of eland carcasses are found.  Unless there is an acute shortage of food and water, eland ordinarily do not venture this far south, nor do they frequent the riverbeds (they are normally more at home in the dunes).  Due perhaps to the extended rainless period aforementioned, some 3,000 eland migrated into the southern part of Kgalagadi from the Botswana side of the park (some perhaps even migrated from as far as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana) and, along with the few eland already on the South African side, entered the riverbeds.  It is somewhat of a mystery as to why when eland, largely water-independent animals with a catholic diet, enter the Kgalagadi riverbeds, they tend to end up dying in numbers.  Benson conjectures that after a long period of stress, fresh water or food can be a shock to the system, as he has observed similar eland die-offs in Hwange, Zimbabwe.

 

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Eland carcass

 

Nossob Rest Camp is situated roughly half way between Twee Rivieren and Union’s End.  Built way back when, the camp epitomizes old South Africa “non-chic”.  It’s so tacky; it’s actually way cool.  Very old (but working) bungalows stand next to a sizeable camping ground.  So numerous are the distant braai fires in the camping area at night, it looks like a rock concert is about to begin.  Our bungalow unit (can’t speak for all the others) is equipped with a cooking stove, a refrigerator, dishes and plates, utensils, and a kettle.  What else do you need?

 

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My room at Nossob Rest Camp

 

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Natasha

 

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Benson

 

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Nossob waterhole at night

 

In my previous visit in April 2008, the Nossob riverbed upheld its elite reputation for raptor sightings.  I practically got a permanent stiff neck from looking up all the time.  This time around, raptor viewing is more pedestrian.  Did the torrential rains of three weeks ago drown out the rodent burrows, forcing the raptors to look for food elsewhere?  Whatever the case, a representative sampling is still seen:  martial eagle, bateleur, pale chanting goshawk, Gabar goshawk, lanner falcon, pygmy falcon, tawny eagle, brown snake eagle, black-breasted snake eagle, etc.

 

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Pale chanting goshawk

 

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Pygmy falcon

 

Gemsboks and red hartebeests are indeed more numerous on the Nossob.  Gemsboks are seen eating soil (“geophagy”) near watering points, and their preference for mineralized water is highlighted by their concentrations at brackish waterholes such as Melkvlei and Kaspersdraai.  Always fidgety and pugnacious in herds, gemsboks can be counted on, if you wait long enough, to fight each other.  Kgalagadi may be the best place to observe red hartebeests, with their superb brown sheen, in numbers.  Some get down on their knees to drink, risking ruining their “black stockings”.

 

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Gemsbok in amidst the driedoring

 

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Gemsbok on the move

 

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Gemsboks fighting

 

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A close-up

 

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Bearing scars from fighting

 

North of Bedinkt, a honeymooning lion couple is found in a thick driedoring patch.  They are on the move, however, and we glean glimpses through the openings.  Male lions here tend to develop black manes outside the blond “rings” around the face, and this male passes for a quintessential Kgalagadi lion.  We catch the male flashing a flehmen response, but the encounter is all too brief.  The couple strolls away into the driedoring.

 

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Honeymoon couple

 

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Flehmen

 

A popular short loop called Marie se draai (named after a woman, whose husband became useless due to excessive drinking, who took it upon herself to drill a borehole there – named “Marie se gat”) is within shouting distance from Nossob Rest Camp.  It is a different, lusher world due to the high water table.  Lion tracks are everywhere, and a couple of individuals are spotted, again by the eagle-eyed one, a good kilometer away.  A huge gemsbok herd waters and then saunters off to the dunes for the evening.  A small herd of greater kudu emerges from the dunes in the morning.

 

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Gemsbok herd on the move at Marie se draai

 

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Red hartebeest at Marie se draai

 

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Kudu at Marie se draai

 

Kgalagadi’s reputation for the smaller, rare, “surprise” species is upheld on the Nossob.  Three pale chanting goshawks and a jackal follow a honey badger hunting.  A couple of meerkat families sun themselves while keeping an eye out for raptors.  Another African wildcat is spotted in a tree.  A lone meerkat is found sitting on a dead camelthorn branch.  The definite highlight is when a caracal is seen drinking at Kaspersdraai early one morning.  Clearly uncomfortable in the daylight, the caracal slinks away quickly into heavy bush after being detected.

 

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African wildcat

 

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Meerkat

 

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Ground squirrels

 

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Dirt in the face

 

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A dead puff adder

 

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Caracal

 

The upper Nossob typically receives more rain than other parts of Kgalagadi within the South Africa side.  The water points, Kwang and Polentswa, bleed into large, lush pans, and near Union’s End, fairly dense woodland occurs on the riverbed itself.  But it’s the end of the line, so to speak.  The dunes are no more.  Flatness takes over.  It’s “miles and miles of bloody Africa” from Union’s End until Maun.

 

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Red hartebeests/woodland near Union's End

 

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Fighting springboks

 

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Springbok at sunset

 

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The symbol of Kgalagadi


Edited by Safaridude, 25 May 2013 - 11:59 PM.


#18 madaboutcheetah

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 06:39 AM

Phew!!!  Great to see Benson too ......... 

 

Stunning!


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#19 Paolo

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 09:24 AM

WOW. Your description of Nossob Restcamp and its sizeable camping ground as some sort of rock concert arena really seems my worst nightmare.

The rest is enchanting though....I really love the red hartebeest portraits, and the caracal sighting was super cool.

Interesting possible explantion by Benson as to the eland die off.

#20 ice

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Posted 26 May 2013 - 09:57 AM

I guess Benson's reasoning is only one side of the story. A lot of the elands you find next to the Nossob River Road were killed by lions but then left alone, simply because there was too much food around at the time -please check the KTP thread started a few weeks ago by @Panthera Pardus for more pictures, also have a read here

 

 

http://www.sanparks....lt.php?id=55354

 

 

http://www.africam.c...f_the_kgalagadi







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