Monday 1st Mar 2021

A personal story written by Graham Howes
The Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park incorporates the old Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (South Africa) and the Gemsbok National Park on the Botswana side of Nossob. This is a massive park, in excess of 80 000 square kilometres, including game management areas in Botswana and what was known as the Mabuasehube National Park. This is a wilderness environment consisting of typical Kalahari: comprising of sand, shrubs, grasses and acacia trees, it is referred to as a desert. (The Kalahari is officially classified as semi-desert environment and is known to be the largest uninterrupted sand field in the world, some 1.2 million square kilometres).

The authorities have opened various access trails and the one I have travelled 15 times is a wilderness trail called the Polentsa Trail. It is a route of 260kms lasting 3 days with basic camps, meaning a designated camp site with no facilities other than the odd tree for some shade. One travels on a sand track and camps in an open environment, exposed to whatever wildlife may choose to pay a visit.

On my last trip, early June 2012, and on the second night I had an awe inspiring and intimidating experience. The Kalahari reveals its secrets reluctantly so I suppose I could add privileged to the above statement. Having finished our supper (G.Howes was travelling with 3 companions who only feature in this story by their conspicuous absence in the events that followed), we were sitting around the fire chatting on this cold night - the temperature would plummet to -7.5 degrees below (my guess is that there was possibly the odd liquid refreshment to warm internal parts which the fire could not reach) - when I heard a faint "oomph", the final part of "waaugh oomph" of a lion announcing its presence. If that call remains at a distance it is a wonderful backdrop to an African night in the wild. This king had other ambitions though and over the next half hour the roars came closer and closer. Eventually the other couple retired to their roof top tent, my friend to the back of the bakkie which doubled as his sleeping quarters and I went off to my small dome tent. (I would say wise choice, retiring that is, but about the small dome tent I have my reservations). As usual I had pitched the tent away from the others to enjoy the night noises and as always left the tent flaps open with only the netting between me and the outside world. Our visitor roared one last time, closer than any of us were comfortable with, and then silence. Eventually I fell asleep.

I awoke with something heavy galloping through the camp. Peering through the netting into the moonlit darkness, thankfully a full moon, I could see three full grown lions, 1 male and 2 females, walking around our camp. Lying on a low camp bed I was looking up at these alpha predators and my only weapon a heavy Maglite torch. After one of the lions bumped my tent I sat up, only for another to lean on the back of the tent, making it bulge inwards. This bulge got a thump with the torch, making it jump and then walk around the side of the tent to the front. I have a mental picture etched into my memory: a moonlit profile of this enormous head turning and looking at me a mere metre from where I lay. All I could do was shine my light at him and thankfully he walked off. For more than two hours they ran around the camp, they played with two canvasses from our camping gear, one was never found, and the male would roar with all his might every now and then. Eventually he moved off, the roars getting dimmer and dimmer, the two ladies remained a while longer. (Probably deciding if they could get a meal or not).

Through all of this, my friend, who is rather deaf in one ear and had fallen asleep on his good one, heard nothing, while the other two were too intimidated to do anything. (This is what I meant by conspicuous by their absence earlier: time to find travel companions who can hear, Graham.)

Eventually I went to sleep and awoke to a camp overrun with lion spoor. Never has a cup of coffee tasted so great.

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