Loners

Those of you who know me know that I am not the most sociable of creatures. I tend to shy away from large crowds or parties. I prefer small groups of friends I know well. Better still, I prefer to just be alone – in the mountains or somewhere unconfined and peaceful.

I guess this would explain my affinity for leopards. They too are fairly aloof animals who appear more than happy on their own.


Despite being socially challenged, I have to admit that one meets pretty interesting people in the Kgalagadi!

On this last trip, we met some great, like-minded folk – people who just love the bush, bird fanatics and people (like us) who just get high on all that big sky, red-sand-soul-food.

You generally get chatting to people in the camp swimming pool…where, hippo-like, we all bob about in fairly close proximity (the pools are small), cooling off our sun-baked bodies. We too (in a uniquely human way), humph, flick our ears and flare our nostrils at one another…sharing stories of sightings and experiences of the mornings and evenings. It is a great way to find out where the bat-eared fox dens are, where a territorial male leopard likes to hang out, or where there is a barn owl nest.

That sort of thing.

One can travel for fairly long distances in the park and not see a soul (a bonus in my book!), but there are sometimes advantages to meeting up with some people along the road, particularly when they look as though they know what they are doing (somehow you can just tell them apart from the touristy types who just want to see ‘ze lions and cheetahs’).

We met one such fellow on this trip…

On our drive from the Nossob side to the Mata side (to get to our next camp, Kalahari Tented), we were cruising along and I suddenly spotted something in a tree. I knew it was a leopard and shrieked at Warren to stop and reverse. I then looked back and saw a dusty red Golf approaching….so I suggested to Warren and Tim that we just stop and pretend to be rooting around in bags, so that said Golf would continue on his merry way and we could watch our leopard on our own.

Shockingly selfish, I know.

Told you I was unsociable. Yet, there is nothing worse, in my view, for these poor creatures than having five or more cars right ontop of them, sometimes with their engines running!

Turns out, Mr Golf had also ‘spotted’ our leopard….and was staying put, long camera lens at the ready. Dammit.

We reversed slowly to get a better view and as we passed him, rolled down our window and had a bit of a chat. I could see he had a bunch of photos in a ‘homemade’ booklet on his lap and was flicking through it. He had been tipped off about this particular female, so had known where to look. We were incredibly lucky to have seen her, he said!

We reversed a little more and sat for ages to watch her. She was glorious. Intense, passive, extraordinary! We then moved the vehicle a little to get to a better vantage point. Again, we passed Mr Golf and this time I asked whether he was a researcher.

Turns out he is an astronomer at UCT, but in his spare time, has been identifying leopards, taking photos and accumulating data on them in the reserve. This has never been done before, so the figure on the park brochures of ‘150 leopard’ is something of a thumb suck! Astounding stuff.

I have been in touch with Matthew since our return, and he has just updated the guide with new photos and data.
Click here to get to the guide.

Thanks to Matthew Schurch (friendly star gazing/leopard spotting chap), we now know that ‘our’ female in a tree is called ‘Tsamma’ (a lovely name after the sought after tsamma melons seen lying about in the park). It is not known whether she is a mother, but Matthew subsequently saw her cosy-ing up with a male (called Barolong) in the area, so there could be a pair of big-eyed mini-Tsammas in the offing in a few months!

Is she not completely beautiful?

The following is an extract from Matthew’s guide. I urge you to print it out and take it with you if you go to the park. Spread the word, and let’s get this out there. The conservation benefits for these elusive and glorious creatures could potentially be huge.

‘This guide is to aid in the identification of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park leopards both whilst in the field and back at home on the computer. It has been compiled from the sightings reported in the SANParks online forum and by the authors.

Careful attention has been made to ensure that no duplicate leopards are presented through the thorough comparison of the spot patterns of all the leopards. A combination of facial markings (spots, and whisker patterns) and side rosettes have been used for all identifications. Where possible pictures representing the sides of the head and body are presented as well as a frontal facial picture. The reported details (sex, paternity, offspring, and range etc.) have been summarised from that reported in the forum, some of this information is well confirmed whilst some is more speculative…. ‘

Sizzling

We got back from the Kgalagadi last week. There are so many photos to share, but we’re still wading through them all. I have some great stories and snippets which I will bring to you over the next few weeks.

It was SIZZLING up there! On our hottest day, the mercury inched a little above the 45°C mark. The park is parched, and we had several days where hungry bush fires raged and boiled beyond the boundaries and within the park. On one or two evenings massive storm clouds gathered up their skirts and danced cheekily, the sky made promising rumbles, lightning sliced up the sky and a damp-smelling hot wind churned up the dust in the river bed. Yet always, there were just one or two tantalizing drops to show for it.

The swimming pool at our second camp was out of order on Day 2. “Too little water”, our camp manager said, shaking his head… “No rain since early December!” They are having to suck water from deep, deep below ground using generators throughout the day to keep the water holes going and to provide water for guests.

Despite all that, we saw some fantastic creatures and made some wonderful memories. A highlight for me has to be when we were out on an evening drive. A fat, perfectly round orange full moon shimmied its way up into the sky.. and as if to celebrate its magnificence, at that very moment, a massive dark-maned lion strutted his stuff beneath it and roared several times. There is nothing quite like that sound, especially when so close. It goes right through you.

Two other highlights were our leopard and meerkat sightings…both were on Tim’s wish list before we headed up this time, so it was wonderful to spend time sitting and watching both.

More stories and photos to come soon…

New Year

This is a photo of 2011’s last big juicy sun sinking behind the Noorhoek sea. Warren and I waved goodbye from the top of a beautiful mountain. We snacked on pate and raised our glasses of bubbly and gave a toast to the beauty around us. We said Adios to the year from what has to have been one of THE most beautiful spots in the world. Well, we thought so anyway!

And here we are, 6 days into a brand new year and on the eve of another trip up north to Big Sky, Big Cat country – the Kgalagadi. The excitement is mounting. I can’t wait to feel that hot red sand between my toes, go to sleep to the sound of giggling hyena and spend hours watching all that wonderful wildlife theatre play out…

A friend and I have made a pact to one another this year. To speak to one another only of positive, beautiful things relating to the world around us. The positive energy is wonderful. In the past few days we have shared stories of swims with dolphins, fish nibbling our toes in mountain streams, leopard scat, newborn owls and so much more. There are so many things to wonder and marvel at. It makes a refreshing change from our rather depressing habit of bemoaning the state of the world and what we are doing to it. No more of that…

I hope to share as many wonderful wild sightings and experiences with you this year. I aim to keep it positive and to dwell on the brilliance of it all.

Happy New Year to you all!