The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is an immense desert area, with grass-covered sand dunes. Formally known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park on the South African side and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, it existed as a single ecological unit and the international border between the two countries. At over 3,5 million hectares, it’s almost twice the size of the Kruger National Park (and about the same size as the Netherlands), and is jointly managed by the South African and Botwsanan wildlife authorities.
A constant high pressure cell forms a ‘lid’ over the interior, preventing moist air from the ocean reaching the area, and as a consequence the long-term rainfall average is just 213mm per annum, which classifies the Kgalagadi as a true desert. Unusually, there is an abundance of desert grasses, giving the landscape an appearance of a semi-desert.
The rainfall, usually in the form of dramatic thunderstorms, falls between November and April. The temperatures in the area vary from -11°C on cold winter nights to a sweltering 42°C in the shade on a summer’s day. Our winter, from May to August is generally cool and dry. In spring, from September to October, the climate is also dry, but warming up in preparation for our summer which, along with autumn, brings the rainfall combined with high temperatures from November to April.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is characterised by two dry riverbeds that flow through the heart of the game reserve: Auob and Nossop, and the main roads – and game viewing sites – are concentrated along these rivers. As with all deserts around the world, the freedom to move to where water and grazing is available is central to the park’s ecosystem. Thus in winter (when it is dryer and colder) the antelope herds tend to move further north where the savannah vegetation is less susceptible to frost. Predators in turn move into the dune areas where it’s slightly warmer. Conversely, during summer the antelope herds congregate in the dry river beds, and it’s not uncommon to see a thousand head of springbok at a time, standing still in the available shade. In turn, the predators also return to the river areas where there is good hunting.
The game reserve has only 8 antelope species, but 19 carnivores, including the famous black-maned lion. These lions have adapted to the extreme conditions, and kill a far higher proportion of small game than lions in other parts of Africa.
They walk an average of 12km per night in search of food. The park has about 300 bird species of which only 82 are resident. Raptors are common, and highly visible in the arid vegetation.