Tswalu - Day Seventeen

Wildebeest (gnu) at watering hole, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 4994 x 3329 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Sun seems to rise a little later here than at Mala Mala; farther north? Wakeup at 5:30, off at 6:00 and drove through the opening dawn chorus in search of lion tracks. Beautiful sunrise, but alas few tracks. Bounced around the country for a couple of hours looking for signs and not finding big cats but lots of different varieties of antelope, kudu, springbok, nyalla, oryx and duiker, as well as many gnus both large territorial males and many females; some wonderful shots. Black rhino charging camera, about 12 metres away, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 5184 x 3456 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)As we began to circle back to head home for breakfast our tracker, Sammy who is perched on the hood of the car, picked up black rhino tracks and we began to follow the tracks into the bush. Came up on him fairly quickly, about 60 metres away, browsing on the leaves of a camel thorn tree, the branches of which he pulled down with his hooked underlip until they broke, then stripped them of leaves, oblivious of the huge thorns on the branch. Marco identified him as rhino 1 by his ear notches, a procedure that is done to all rhinos in the reserve, in order to track and identify them, poaching being a massive problem in southern africa. There are only about 1,500 black rhinos left in the wild so seeing one at close range is a rare occurrence. Black rhino charging camera,  about 6 metres away, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 4416 x 3036 px. (Gerald FitzGerald) Rhino 1 is known to all the Tswalu staff as he has a very bad reputation and had already rammed one LR so Marco was very reluctant to get closer, but as we were downwind and he had not yet spotted us, we began to circle the LR and edge in closer. Apparently white rhinos, if frightened, will usually run away but black rhinos will usually charge, and, not surprisingly, are considered much more dangerous, especially rhino 1 who has a history of charging first and asking questions later. We got to about 30 metres when he spotted us, shook his head, rumbled and snorted then began to rush at the LR like a runaway tank. I had my viewfinder filled with rhino and my finger was on the shutter with the camera in burst mode so I was getting about 6 shots a second. It was hair-raisingly fabulous! Marco, Andrew and the tracker were yelling and banging on the sides of the vehicle and at about 6 or 8 metres he swerved off to one side and watched us with malicious intent. We wheeled the LR around and headed quickly away. Marco says that he has been trying to get that shot for 4 years but the previous couple of times that this has occurred he has been too busy dealing with the rhino to grab his camera so Iā€™m feeling pretty good as the shots look to be great; crisp, in focus and frame-filling, charging rhino. A nice appetite enhancer for breakfast.

Lioness on watch, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 5184 x 3456 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Lazy afternoon and then out again at 17:00, once again trying for lion. There was a sighting in the morning by one of the other cars of a pride of Kalahari lions, the largest lions in southern africa, and Marco was determined to find them. Found tracks and Sammy was continually jumping down in the dust and traversing through the long grass to stay with their trail, which made us very nervous. Finally he said that he could hear them and that they were about 30 or 40 metres away behind some thorn shrubs. He left his seat on the hood of the car and climbed back in the car with us as we carefully picked our way through thorn bushes and tall grass, and there in a patch of trodden grass was a pride of 11 lionesses and juvenile males snarling and gnawing at a warthog that they had just killed. They were piled up on each other, with the two older lionesses taking the bulk of the meal while the juveniles were trying to ease their way into the circle for a share. When detected, they were swatted away with great rumbling coughs and snarls; occasionally one of the more daring would try to swoop in and grab a piece of meat and run away but success did not often reward their efforts. Lions are described as co-operative hunters and competitive eaters and it was easy to see why. Lioness stalking in high grass, Tswalu, Kalahari Desert, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 4641x2862px. (Gerald FitzGerald) Not many good shots; light fading, lions all tangled up in a pile and largely hidden by tall grass but fascinating to watch. Watched them until it was too dark to see. On the way home drove into an area where leopards had been seen earlier that day, and by using a spotlight, found their victim, a half-eaten antelope, in the crook of a branch in a tall tree. Unfortunately no leopards and no telling when they would return, so home for a wonderful dinner; a tasting menu with appropriate wines for each course. Need to have my clothes let out when we get home.

Tswalu - Day Eighteen

White River to Tswalu - Day Sixteen