Yesterday was a very exciting one. We left the Hilton after breakfast and made our way to the Executive Terminal at the Cape Town airport for a 1:00 execujet flight to Tswalu in the Southern Kalahari. On arrival we were met by our guide, Cameron and tracker, Ben and escorted to the most amazing lodge we have ever seen right in the middle of the Kalahari with desert and incredible wildlife at our doorstep.
After settling in to our heavenly guest room, we left at 5pm for an evening safari and found ourselves tracking and photographing all manner of wildlife and native birds. What a treat! Ben is amazing – very quiet and competent, pointing out game from long distances away. Cameron (who is likely in his late 20s) is incredibly educated and knowledgeable about everything in the park. Being a guide, sometimes called a ranger inolves a great deal of study and many certifications. He answers our many questions very effectively and with good grace. He tells us that some of his guests are not that interested, and because he loves it so much, finds that hard to imagine. He is grateful that we are so interested.
The highlight of the evening was a sighting of a pride of 11 lions – 3 generations – whom we tracked at close range for 45 minutes. We watched them from only 2-3 metres away. Absolutely fascinating – especially the fact that they were only mildly curious about us.
This game reserve is owned and heavily funded by the Oppenheimer family – of DeBeers fame – and they are conservationists with great interest in the ecological balance of this reserve. The reserve has been taken back from farming and cattle ranches about 16 years ago and is being restored to its natural state. Restoration involves the careful balancing of different wildlife, game, trees, flowers, people…the lodge only holds 18 people at any one time and no more than 2 vehicles can be out viewing a group of animals at any one time. We are very impressed – and ever hopeful for a positive future – by all the staff and family’s commitment to restoration, provision of good jobs for Africans of all racial groups, and sustainability.
We’ve met some fun people here. We travelled in on the plane from Cape Town with Fatima and Rolf who are from Munich. We had lots of fun with them and enjoyed dinner last night together in the open air.
This morning we were awakened at 5am with a knock on our door and were ready for our drive at 530. We watched about a dozen giraffe for 20 mins, then spent time in a habituated Meerkat colony. The staff at Tswalu have been working for 4 years with 2 groups of a dozen Meerkats to get them used to people being around their home. As a result we could stand and watch them as they woke in the morning, stretched, tidied up and renovated their condo, and prepared to leave a babysitter with 4 little ones for the day while they went out hunting. They return at sundown presumably bringing food back for the babysitter!
From there we tracked a mother black rhino and her baby – Cameron tells us they are severely threatened with only an estimated 800 left in the world. Because of certain plant life here in the park they are doing well here. Apparently they will not release the count in the park to avoid telling the world they are here and risking poachers wanting to come here.