Written by Rachelle Keeling
Nature met us in her sheer uninhabited glory – from striking red sands to swirling dust storms, arid riverbeds and dramatic skylines. Here imposing dunes lay dotted with regal gemsbok and pronking white-faced springbok – this was the Kalahari desert. We were exploring the region on a visit to the 3.6 million hectare Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
We had booked seven nights in the park – particularly hopeful to see cheetah. Instead, we were spoilt with lion… almost daily.
We’d had a first-hand encounter with a lioness the day before, who suddenly and unexpectedly charged our vehicle as we were driving along a sand road near the Mata Mata camp. We were calmly driving along, past some bushes, and out of nowhere a lioness charged out of the bushes and took us completely by surprise. One second there were only bushes when I looked out the window, and the next there was a fully grown lioness effortlessly running alongside our vehicle. We had to speed up to pull away from her but she continued to chase us, matching the 50km speed of our car with ease. I’ll never forget her piercing stare when she suddenly took off, running alongside our car. I sat in the passenger seat and as she ran alongside the car she stared me straight in the eyes. She knew I was there, and I knew that she could definitely distinguish me from the vehicle. I dread to think what might have been if the window had been open. In that one deadly look filled with intent I knew that if it was not for that car, I would have been dead. Eventually she stopped and sat down on the road and a male lion then came out of the bush and joined her. A park ranger suggested her erratic behaviour was likely of a protective nature, perhaps she had cubs hidden in the bush.
We never had to look hard to find the game – on the open landscape they were easily visible. We also soon learnt the animals could be easily found clustered around one thing: water! So we spent our time migrating between waterholes.
One morning, we stopped at Polentswa, a water point about 60km north of Nossob camp (where we had spent the night), and that’s when we saw them – two male lions, and in the distance blue wildebeest.
The wildebeest were fighting. As they sped forward to meet each other head-on, their horns slammed together and their hooves dug into the dry sand, kicking up a cloud of dust. The dust filled the air and shrouded the fighters.
The bystanders, however, were forever watchful of the lions lazing in the shade only 50 metres away. In between predator and prey lay a waterhole. The trickle of her thirst-quenching waters glistening in the sun.
The wildebeest almost seemed to have a strategy. They appeared to coming together to join forces, and we watched as they began to form a super herd. With swelled numbers they finally grew bold enough to approach the waterhole. Slowly, they moved closer as a unit, forming a solid wall of defence.
We sat with the lions and the wildebeest as they stared one another down. Predators vs. prey locked in a battle of wills for about three hours, until the scouring 40°C degree heat and need for shade compelled us to return to camp. The interaction of the day, however, stayed with us long after our return home.