Category Archives: Northern Cape Province

Carnivorous Ground Squirrels!?

While exploring with his camera in Mata Mata Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Joubert came across something really remarkable, if somewhat gruesome: Southern African Ground Squirrels feeding on the carcass of a Cape Turtle Dove. While it is doubtful the squirrels killed the dove and it isn’t clear how the dove succumbed (probably attacked by a raptor), Joubert captured some really fascinating behaviour, as none of the literature we consulted give any indication at all that ground squirrels will eat meat (other than an occasional hapless insect).

These photos were all taken by Joubert (who turns nine soon).

(Edit 08/08/2018 – The WILD Magazine also did a short piece about Joubert and these photos, have a read here)

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Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Wildlife

For such an arid area – average rainfall measures around 200mm per annum – the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is home to an astonishing variety of wildlife. Apart from a wide variety of desert-adapted plants and invertebrates, the Park’s lists boast 62 kinds of mammals, 274 species of bird (of which 78 are resident throughout the year), 48 sorts of reptiles (including 17 snake species) and seven kinds of frogs.

There’s three kinds of plants that really are characteristic of the Kalahari. The first is the Camel Thorns – huge trees growing in the beds of the Auob and Nossob River and about which we’ll be sharing more soon. Then, there’s the Gemsbok Cucumbers and Tsamma Melons; the fruits of which are made up of around 90%+ of water and both an invaluable source of moisture to all kinds of wildlife (including some carnivores).

At the one end of the scale there’s a multitude of invertebrates and small reptiles and mammals taking up their respective positions in the food pyramid. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park allows a glimpse into their natural cycles and behaviours uniquely adapted to their arid environs.

The Kalahari might best be known for the grand variety of raptors that soar its airways, but birdwatchers will not be disappointed by the variety of other, less fearsome but equally fascinating, feathered fauna that find a home here.

The Rest Camps of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are excellent places to look for owls, by day or night!

Predators, both large and small, abound in the Kalahari. Africa’s three species of big cat are often seen (though the leopard eluded us when we visited in June 2018), and is one of the main reasons people undertake the long journey to visit here.

The Gemsbok is so iconic of the Kalahari that both parks that today make up the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park and South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park) was named after it. These beautiful animals are of the most commonly encountered large mammals in the Park.

And while there may not be as great diversity among the large herbivores in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as in some of Africa’s other great conservation areas, the antelope, giraffe and warthogs occur in such numbers that it belies the harshness of their environment.

We’ll dedicate the next few posts on our blog to discover some of the Kalahari’s residents in more detail.

 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – History and Tourism

Wedged into a remote corner of South Africa’s Northern Cape, between Namibia and Botswana, lies a very special piece of the Kalahari Desert. Here a wilderness of dunes, pans and dry, sandy river beds is a safe refuge to a rich variety of natural life, and one of the last fully functional ecosystems remaining on earth. The beds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers very rarely boast flowing water – the Auob perhaps once in ten years, the Nossob only once or twice in a century.

When the First World War broke out over a 100 years ago, the British Colonial government of the Union of South Africa and British Bechuanaland considered the beds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers a strategic access into German South West Africa and started sinking boreholes in the rivers to supply advancing troops. After the war, the area was divided into farms by a Scotsman, Roger Jackson, explaining how many of the waterholes today carry very Scottish-sounding names. The newly settled farmers however found it tough going – the fascinating museum at Auchterlonie providing a glimpse into this hard life – and had to turn their rifles on the herds of game moving through the area in order to make a living.

With the game population falling drastically, and shortly after South Africa’s first national park was proclaimed (the Kruger in the then Transvaal) two influential men from the region invited then Minister of Lands, Piet Grobler, on a “hunting trip” in the Kalahari and deliberately took him to an area denuded of wildlife. So disturbed was the minister by the lack of game that he immediately set about the process of proclaiming the area between the Auob and Nossob Rivers South Africa’s second national park – the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park coming into official existence on 31 July 1931. Soon more land to the southwest of the Auob and its confluence with the Nossob were added, bringing the size of the Park to 9,600km². Then, in 1938 the government in neighbouring Bechuanaland (today Botswana) proclaimed an even bigger piece of land on the other side of the Nossob (the unfenced international boundary between the two countries) the Gemsbok National Park. Informally the two conservation areas were managed as a single unit ever since, but it wasn’t until 1999 when the leaders of the two countries signed a treaty to formalise the arrangement. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, covering over 34,500km², was officially opened on 12 May 2000 and is one of the biggest, and most unspoiled, conservation areas on the planet.

On the South African side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park guests have a choice of three “traditional” rest camps offering basic amenities like accommodation, camping, a shop, fuel station, swimming pools, and guided walks and drives. Twee Rivieren is the main entrance, biggest camp and administrative centre of the Park (it also has a restaurant and border control) and offered the first tourist accommodation in the Park in 1940, while Mata Mata (on the Auob River, opened 1955) and Nossob (on the Nossob River, opened 1966) lie deeper into the Park, about 120m and 160km away from Twee Rivieren respectively. Union’s End marks the point where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet and is one of 6 rustic picnic sites available on the South African side of the Park. Six smaller Wilderness Camps are also spread throughout the Park – these offer only accommodation to overnight visitors. Between Twee Rivieren and Mata Mata lie the Kalahari Tent Camp, Urikaruus and Kieliekrankie, between Nossob and Mata Mata is located Bitterpan while Gharagab and Grootkolk is located north of Nossob on the way to Union’s End. While there’s around 500km of prepared roads (very sandy and corrugated in places, not recommended for sedans) to explore the Park in relative comfort, there is also a selection of guided and self-guided 4×4 trails available.

Relative locations of Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata, Nossob and Union’s End in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park must be one of South Africa’s most out-of-the-way tourist attractions, lying about 1060km from Pretoria and 1040km from Cape Town. The nearest major airport with daily flights is at Upington, about 250km away from Twee Rivieren.

The location of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

In the next installment, we’ll be showing you the marvelous wildlife spectacle the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has to offer.

 

Augrabies Falls National Park

The Orange River, South Africa’s biggest and longest (running 2,200km from its source in Lesotho to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean) is, for the most part, a lazy, slow-flowing waterway. That changes however when it is forced through a narrow granitic channel in the arid Northern Cape, plunges 56m over the impressive Augrabies Falls and continues through a dramatic gorge for another 18km before again returning to its more placid ways.

After years of political wrangling, a small 5,400 hectare area around the Falls was proclaimed the Augrabies Falls National Park in August 1966. Subsequently surrounding areas have been incorporated, and today the Park covers over 51,000 hectares.

Visitors can enjoy the best views of the Falls from several vantage points connected by easily negotiated boardwalks.

Consider that these photos taken during our visit in June 2018 saw the river flowing at a below average 38 cubic meters per second, and then imagine what it must look like when a flood of approximately 7,800 cumec, as happened in 1988, thunders down the Falls, to understand exactly why the Khoi named this place “Aukoerebis“, meaning “the place of great noise“!

Although the Falls is a worthy focal point of the National Park, there’s still lots more to see further afield when exploring this arid rocky desert landscape (the Park receives only about 120mm of rain annually). Places like Oranjekom, Ararat, Echo Corner and the Moon Rock are well worth the visit for spectacular views and fascinating geology. Quiver Trees and Namaqua Porkbush, both of which we’ll feature in more detail soon, are conspicuous plants and brilliantly adapted to life in this harsh environment. Rocky hills and arid plains where animals and birds abound add to the attraction.

Among the fauna finding protection in the Augrabies Falls National Park counts 49 species of mammal, 181 recorded bird species, around 50 species of reptile, 6 kinds of frog and 12 species of indigenous fish.

Guests can be accommodated overnight in the rest camp’s chalets or the very neat camping area, all within easy walking distance from the Falls (illuminated until 10pm each evening). At the camp there’s four swimming pools (including one for day visitors), a shop, restaurant, fuel station and a little bird-watching hide. The Oranjekom Gorge Cottage is located about 10km from the main camp, and offers privacy and magnificent views over the ravine and river. Provision is also made for day visitors with picnic sites in the camp and along the game viewing loop. Visitors are welcome to explore the Park’s roads in their own vehicle (some roads are only accessible to 4×4 vehicles) or on mountain bikes, and there’s several hiking trails to choose from ranging in length from 2 to 33km (the latter being the Klipspringer Trail which includes two overnight stops). Guided drives (both day and night) in open vehicles can be booked at reception.

The Augrabies Falls National Park is in one of the remotest corners of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province; roughly 930km from Pretoria and 870km from Cape Town. The nearest major airport with daily flights is at Upington, about 125km away. We enjoyed a wonderful two-night visit to Augrabies at the end of June 2018, during which all these photos were taken.

Location of Augrabies Falls National Park

Back from the Kalahari

We’ve just arrived home after a little more than a week spent exploring two of South Africa’s most remote national parks – the Augrabies Falls National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Here’s a little selection of the thousands of pictures we came back home with for you to enjoy while we work at answering all the comments you left for us on the scheduled posts that published during our absence. Of course there’ll be many more pictures from these two magnificent destinations in the weeks to come!

Mokala Scenery

We’ve already shown you so many of the animals and birds that call Mokala home that you must by now be convinced of the fact that this National Park is one of South Africa’s conservation gems. That sensational faunal diversity however would not have existed had it not been for the wide range of vegetation, habitats and landscapes that Mokala comprises, and now in this final post about our April 2018 visit it is fitting that we showcase that aspect.

One of our highlights from this trip was having a front row seat to one of the most awe-inspiring experiences one could hope to have in Africa: a powerful thunderstorm rolling over the parched plains, smelling the red dust rise into the air as big drops of cool rainwater smacks into the dry soil. Soul stirring stuff.

And finally a few shots of our favourite place to stay while visiting Mokala: the rustic Haak-en-Steek Cottage.

If you’d like to learn more about Mokala National Park, why not have a read through the detailed post we did about the Park in 2016.

A rich assortment of animals at Mokala

Just as with the birds we showed you 2 days ago, Mokala National Park has an incredible variety of four and six legged creatures on show.

The large mammals are the easiest to see and photograph. During our 4 day visit in April 2018 we recorded over 750 different sightings of 30 different kinds of mammals!

The white rhino is the biggest of the animals in Mokala. Here they are shy and elusive and we were very happy to see a few of these endangered creatures.

Remember those mud-loving buffaloes we showed you a few days ago? Well that wasn’t our only encounter with Mokala’s growing population of African buffalo and we were very fortunate to come across several more herds and a few loners while exploring the Park.

Mokala’s giraffes are shown off to great effect in the open landscape dotted with their favourite Camel Thorn and Umbrella Thorn trees.

Mokala is certainly one of the reserves with the greatest variety of antelope in South Africa, many of which are rare in other national parks. Amongst others we managed to see black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, eland, gemsbok, grey duikerimpala, kudu, mountain reedbuckred hartebeest, steenbokwaterbuck, tsessebe, sable and roan antelope.

Not forgetting that we’ve already shown you loads of photos of Mokala’s springbok and plains zebras.

Mokala also has a wide variety of smaller mammals that are easier to overlook; Baboons and vervet monkeys, ground squirrels, warthogs, meerkats and yellow mongooses all crossed our path from time to time.

Mokala’s insects, amphibians and reptiles make you work harder for sightings of them, but for those who go to the effort there’s an astonishing variety of less conspicuous creatures waiting to entertain and enthrall!

If you’d like to learn more about Mokala National Park, why not have a read through the detailed post we did about the Park in 2016.