In Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we’ve gone over to the dark side … waking up early and setting out as the gates open, resting during the hottest time of the day when most respectable cats are under a tree, sleeping. First we stayed at the Nossob riverfront chalets, lining the dry Nossob riverbed, waterhole directly ahead.
And, there, at 8:30 in the morning after an hour’s drive was a leopard, loping towards us across the broad riverbed. He padded quietly, no worries, to the road where a couple of vehicles had already started gathering, threaded between two of them, then disappeared into the high yellow grasses.
Then at 10:30 a car stopped to tell us about two cheetahs at a particular waterhole we were heading towards. Expecting to find the two cats lying lazily at the water, what we got was … four adolescent male lions marching down a hillside toward the waterhole!
And so passed a highly entertaining hour of hi-jinx. Here, too, was a concrete slab over part of the water, which itself appeared not so easy to get to. The lions first had to negotiate stones across the mud, then balance precariously on an unstable concrete slab, then try not to overbalance as they leaned down to reach the water. They balanced, wobbled and stumbled. One squirmed under his brother to get to the water, the other jumped away and over other bodies, losing his footing. The largest of the four, with a reasonably developed mane, slid off the edge and toppled into the mud. It was so squelchy he simply sat there in total resignation, mud-encrusted right up to his muzzle, whiskers coated, nose caked. It was utterly hilarious.
The next night, at Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, we sat watching a full moon rise pink and mysterious through the Kalahari dust. Just as dusk was darkening, the shadowy outline of a giant male lion materialised at the waterhole, which lies in front of the units. After drinking forever, he turned and headed steadfastly straight for our unit.
Trouble is, in our wisdom, we had moved our table and camp chairs from the roofed veranda (secured by a gate) into the open braai quadrangle. We had only a shoulder-height open-link fence between us and an advancing male lion. We scuttled behind the gate of the veranda. He made a sudden turn left, then plopped down heavily 15 m from our braai fence.
But our biggest problem was … how to get to our roaring fire, let alone carry our table and chairs back to safety? He appeared so settled we stealthily tiptoed back outside, lifted the table and hauled it back. He was unperturbed, giving out a few grunts a few metres away.
There he stayed until we were halfway through our meal. Then he got up, padded slowly behind our unit, and started revving up his vocal chords. Slowly, slowly, each grunt strengthened, then became powerful, got louder and louder. Finally we got a real meneer of a roar that thrilled us to our bones. The old codger settled outside the camp manager’s hut, where four or five times throughout the night he made sure he kept us awake with his territorial bellows.
We didn’t see our giant old lion the following day, but when we got to the furthest reaches of the park, at Union’s End, there was a female lion perched prettily on a sandy bank at the roadside. She was very aware of our presence, so after a while she crossed in front of us, climbed the road bank and turned to walk right past us for a little distance, then stopped, turned around. She seemed a little irritated and began walking purposefully towards us, head down and tense. Knowing the tyre-destroying reputation of Gharagab’s lions, the wilderness camp not too far away, we slowly drew off. She leapt forward and started scampering after us at a pace.
Chased by a lion!
We had to rev up considerably to get away from her, and eventually she just flopped down in the middle of the road and started rolling in the sand, legs in the air.
Photographer Hirsh Aronowitz