Written by: Barry Pieser
When I started working at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in 2008, I was a conservation student and had some theory knowledge, but not a lot of experience.
The Kalahari is a wilderness known for extreme temperatures soaring to 40degrees + during the months of November to February, and dropping to negative figures in the winter months of May to August. These extremes took quite some getting used to. I personally love the summer months, mostly because of the dramatic thunder storms which for the most part tease us as they pass by and rain elsewhere. This is why the Kalahari is known as “the land of great thirst”. The clouds build up during the morning and early parts of the afternoon. The wind picks up, churning up dust, which is the first indicator that a potential thunderstorm is rolling in, as the clouds develop into soaring giants. The deep blue, grey colour that develops under these menacing clouds is the approaching rain. Bolts of lightning begin to flash and streak across the skies accompanied by rolling thunder. The rain starts to fall, sometimes as a wall that makes visibility as limited as a few feet. From such down-pours rivers are temporarily formed, melting into the roads and leaving behind the smell of fresh earth. If we’re blessed, the rain comes down in torrents and the earth drinks it up.
With summer, migratory birds return, keeping birder guests at the waterhole with binoculars glued to their faces. I especially enjoy watching the fascinating flight displays of red-crested korhaans, Northern-black korhaans and Eastern-clapper larks desperate to attract a mate. The giant nests of the sociable weavers who by their nest building skills create a micro-habitats of their own and attract the attention of multiple predators, such as boomslangs, cape cobras and the ever hopeful rock monitors that lay in wait for chicks to fall from their homes.
At Tswalu we are incredibly fortunate to have the chance to view suricates, also known as meerkats, on foot. This is possible as much work has been done over the last eight years by those dedicated to sitting with and walking with these fascinating social creatures. Guides take guests either in mornings before sunrise or in the late afternoon when the suns heat is less intense to the meerkats-burrow systems to watch the group emerge in the mornings. At first light they can be seen scouting for possible dangers before heading off for the day to forage for food. With a small patient group of guests, we can approach them on foot, enjoying them as they forage and interact just feet away from us. This allows for some great photographic opportunities!
Seeing a scaly-anteater/pangolin for the first time was an incredible experience for me, and then of course there are the other fascinating animals including aardvark, aardwolf, striped-polecats, cape fox, bat-eared fox and many other small and special creatures are all unique, incredible experiences of their own. We also often see rarer species such as roan, sable and tsessebe amongst your typical Kalahari species.
Kalahari black-maned lions with their dark grey hides and paws that would full a dinner plate are incredible. It’s a privilege to watch interactive cubs playing around their protective mothers and taking chances to get the male’s attention. Early mornings, especially in summer, are a winner for viewing these popular “kings of the African bush”. In glorious morning light, I experienced them up close just a few days ago, as an old lioness decided the shade of my Landrover was a good place to lie in! It showed me that, as a guide, she was comfortable with my presence.
The disease-free buffalo can be reached by an extended drive out over the dunes but the loved and adored giraffe and zebra along with all the Kalahari species, such as eland, springbok, gemsbok, hartebeest and wildebeest, just to name a few, are regularly seen.
Finally, the night skies are also something to behold, as the stars are clear to see and the milky-way brilliant across the crisp, clear sky which invites awe and inspires thoughts to wonder about our existence and the size of our galaxy, within the infinite universe. Guests can experience sun rises over the Korranneberg and sunsets over undulating sand dunes whilst out in the bush sipping on a G&T , ice-cold beer or sharing a glass of wine.
Working at Tswalu has been the biggest adventure of my life!