Most people come to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in winter, when temperatures are cooler. But summer is when the thunderstorms arrive, bringing water to a thirsty land. By Scott Ramsay
I have just spent three weeks in the Kgalagadi, travelling to both the South African and Botswana side of the 38,000 square kilometre park. When I arrived, there had been very little rain, but during my stay the cumulonimbus clouds grew bigger and bigger until they could hold their water no more, unleashing several rainstorms onto the dusty ground below. Everything seemed to change…the animals seemed happier, the flowers bloomed, the grass turned green overnight, and the sweet smell of rain permeated the air. For me, despite the high temperatures, summer is a better time to visit the Kgalagadi…there is so much more life!
The King of Gharagab
This huge black-maned lion is a resident near Gharagab tented camp in the northern part of the park, and I photographed him one afternoon as the rain came pelting down. He moved out of the shelter of a camel thorn tree to lie in the downpour, and started cleaning himself. This photo was taken as he was licking his mane, but it looks like he is sticking his tongue out for a few drops of fresh rainwater!
This spotted hyaena was loving all the water that came with the rain, splashing around until she was covered in mud.
Desert in bloom
The land responds almost overnight to rain, and flowers pop up everywhere. This flower is about half the size of a small fingernail, but it looks bigger because I used a macro lens.
Thirsty brown hyena
There are apparently about 500 brown hyaena in the park, which makes Kgalagadi one of the best places to see these normally elusive creatures. This was one slaking his thirst at Nossob camp’s waterhole, where a visitor hide makes seeing animals really easy. This photo was taken half an hour before sunrise at an ISO of 32,000, so although there was very little light, I was still able to capture the scene.
Before the rains arrive and leave puddles of water everywhere, the animals rely on the numerous boreholes in the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob. This lion was fascinated by the pump at Polentswa waterhole. These waterholes were built before the First World War, in case Germany invaded South Africa from what is now Namibia. So although the Kgalagadi is a largely natural system, with very little management by man, the waterholes have become an integral influence on both the ecology and tourist experience.
Early morning drink
The waterholes have definitely influenced the ecology, and some migratory animals like wildebeest have become sedentary because of the constant supply of water. Birds like pigeons have also taken advantage. Every morning and afternoon thousands of pigeons descend to drink at the waterholes, and make for easy food for lanner falcons, which sometimes swoop down to snatch a snack. This photo was taken early one morning at Polentswa.
When the rains arrive, the animals seem to respond as well. They seem happier, and more energetic, probably because it’s not so hot! These two lion cubs were part of a larger pride of two males and three females, and to me they epitomise the vitality of the park in summer time.
Scott Ramsay visited the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as part of his Year in the Wild project.