(4) Hunting The Kalahari
Updated: Jan 13
The Kalahari is a semi-desert area of about 360,000 square miles stretching for 1,000 miles over Southern Africa and morphing into the formidable Namib Desert in the west part of the country. The Kalahari's apparent inhospitable, hot geography when viewed from a distance is habitat to large numbers of predators, ungulates, reptiles and colourful birds.
The Kalahari overlaps the countries of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia as shown in the map.
The green areas on the map are the major national and private nature reserves in Southern Africa.
Driving West from Pretoria the countryside gradually changes from subtropical savannah, first to platinum bearing ridges and granite hills, then to flat country and miles and miles of corn fields - in fact in one stretch the traveller will for 100 miles drive on a road virtually straight and completely flat, all the time between corn fields - the tassels of which will block the view of the equally flat horison.
After the gold and uranium mining town of Carltonville we angle away from the row of hills to our left where the world’s deepest gold, uranium and palladium mines are dotted in a line. The deepest of these is called Western Deep Levels which has four stages of towers that lower their bins 4 km into the depths of the earth. That is more than 13,000 ft, meaning down to 9,000 ft below sea level from that elevation.
Next we pass the works where a big clay mine and tile factory exists to the right. This is mentioned because it is no ordinary tile factory and neither is the clay just ordinary clay: the pits are unique in the world - the only known location where the clay gets mined for the baked tiles that protected the Space Shuttle’s nose from cooking off on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.
Then a long, long straight road points to our overnight stop near the town of Hotazel, 500 miles from Pretoria.
The name of the town is real - and for a real good reason - it is unusually hot, even for the surrounding area's climate.
We stop at a diner at the edge of the sleepy town of Hotazel and get hit in the face by a winter midday temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit as we get out of the truck for a late lunch and some cold refreshment. While waiting for the food we admire a stone tub containing a cubic meter of polished semi-precious stones of uncountable types - from tiger's eye to amber - and bottles filled with layer upon layer of fine sand of ever differing shades from dark chocolate, to brown, to rusty red, to orange, to caramel, to yellow ochre, to grey, to pale grey, to pure white.
Then, to get to our overnight lodge we head towards a range of hills interspaced by white cliffs of calcite, dark grey bauxite, light grey manganite and walls of rusted red iron oxide - the home of manganese, iron ore, and calcium mines, and cement factories and aluminium smelting facilities.
Iron ore, calcite, bauxite and manganite is mined in the Hotazel area.
Once accross the hills we enter the Red Kalahari. A wide open savannah vista of big camelthorn trees, widely spaced low brush and grass meets the eye. It is the habitat where eland, kudu, giraffe, springbok, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, zebra, red hartebeest, steenbok, black-backed and side-striped jackal, bat-eared fox and spotted and brown hyena thrive.
It also is home to scores of families of the little meerkat which is never being shot at. We strongly believe that nature itself controls possible pests.
.. and home to the Kalahari lion - a taller and more muscular sub-specie than the Panthera leo in the eastern part of the country; in the Kalahari they are assisted by cheetah and leopard and spotted hyena to control the ungulate numbers.
Kalahari lion have a unique trait. Unlike all other lion they are not afraid of camp fires - in fact they will come from miles away to inspect it.
We turn off the main road to overnight at a hunting lodge a few miles outside Hotazel and listen to the total, complete quietness of the desert - in day time.
At sunset a few tentative bird-like tweets are first heard - and then a loud chorus of squeaks and squawks by thousands of invisible geckos erupt to fill the cooling evening air while a glass of cold Colombard white wine pre-empts the eland steaks on the red-hot embers of the hard camelthorn firewood.
Starting the fire with thin branches before the hardwood of the Vachellia eriliobea are added to get the proper heat for the steaks.
When it is time for an after dinner liqueur or brandy the faraway, deep, WWWheeaaaahh..WWHOO!” of a spotted hyena, carrying far into the darkness, welcomes the first time visitor to South Africa’s living desert.
Next morning we have a quick mug of coffee and a few rusks and our truck's spotlights illuminate a wide, sandy road as we head to a huge property about 160 miles to the north. Passing the settlement called "Van Zyl's Rust" - originally a small outback postal facility that came into being when a pioneer trekker decided that this was far enough from the British government in Cape Town and started farming with karakul sheep, we are in the centre of the "Dune Kalahari" where we will do our week long hunt for Rowland Ward gemsbok and springbok, and a brown hyena.
The hollow plains between the dunes are called "streets" by the locals.
To hunt this vast area (ranches are typically in excess of 50,000 acres) we drive out with the property owner over some dunes and then along a "street" until we find tracks crossing our way, inspect them for freshness, and if they are less than 30 minutes old we take our rifles, extra water in our day packs, a bushman tracker and we leave the truck and follow the gemsbok tracks accross the dunes.
The sheer number of game passing here overnight is evident by the numerous tracks in the sand when we cross one dune with the truck to enter a "street".
After setting out on foot on the fresh tracks we crest each dune in a leopard crawl to not skyline ourselves, and scan the street below for our game
The following images are the shooting scenes we hope to observe:
The previous afternoon the scopes have been checked for zero and we met the ranch owner's requirement to put two bullets from 100 meter into the 2" circle the centre of which is 2" above the aiming mark. Shooting distances will be between 150 and 300 yards.
After the hunter had killed his gemsbok and photos were taken, we remove the stomach and viscera, wipe the body dry and send the tracker to call the truck and sit in the shade of a stunted camelthorn tree to enjoy a sandwich and some coffee from the two small flasks the PH carries in his day pack. There is a wide quieteness, and getting warmer from the early morning's unexpected bracing cold air, and we enjoy the vastness of this wonderful land, listening to the "kelkiewyn!"-sounding calls of banded partridges flying towards and back from water holes.
Some Kalahari successes - and look at the perfect shot placement by these hunters:
An American hunter with an excellent, Rowland Ward+ red hartebeest - and the PH having set up the perfect trophy photo. I maybe would have the rifle slightly more angled.
Things to look out for during our hunt, walking or leopard-crawling over the dunes:
The Cape Cobra normally flees at quite impressive speed, but clearly this one did not.
The lethality of scorpions amongst species is shown by the relationship between the size of its tail and sting, and its front claws. This one has tiny claws and a muscular, powerfil tail and a large sting - so guess what... (It still will not kill you but if you can aim straight for a day after being stung you are quite a man!)
During the week we shall see ostriches - and ostrich eggs lying around, honey badgers, bat-eared foxes, black backed as well as side-striped jackal, brown hyena, giraffe - and if the visitor quietely sat in the truck for a few hours by a lone water hole he will experence the sudden frightening rush of wings as thousands of banded partridges unexpectedly land at the water's edge; equally suddenly they will flee up in a fright just to circle once and land again.
After the week's hunts and because we are there we take the land owner's specially equipped Toyota Landcruiser for a four day tour from the South Africa Kalahari Gemsbok National Park into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park shared with Botswana - a million acres of untouched wilderness. We shall not even need passporst to enter Botswana but will need to be fully self-sufficient regarding all food and water and vehicle maintenance, with no cellphone contact. The visitor will need an extra SD card for his camera - and if he has a directional plug-in microphone he will take home sound memories unique in the world.
We shall be well equipped and 100% safe, and the experience is more than worthy of the effort.
About a two hour drive north will bring us to the Kalahari Gemsnok Park where we shall enter en register to pass into Botswana into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and have 15,000 square miles virtually to ourselves.
Because it is so big the wideness simply absorbs you. This is the view we shall immediately have:
Soon we shall find a shady space for a leisurely breakfast, but do not get out of our vehicle before scouting the area out:
There will be a shaded hideout overlooking a water hole
And clean wash rooms to freshen up:
Finding any waterhole merits the time spent there. This is a desert, so water is an attraction and a resource to fight about..
and a place to go for a drink with your buddies
There are lion over every dune - or so it seems:
We shall sleep in luxury, safe tents
and all the time see nature in action, even the nimble black backed jackal.
Our return trip to Pretoria will be a roundabout way from the hunting ranch, all along the amorphous Border with Botswana, then tracking the Limpopo River forming the slightly firmer south-eastern boundary until we meet tha confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers at the Tuli Circle and Mapungubwe National Park, and where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe share a common border. That will be 1 300 miles of uninterrupted wilderness and wildlife of all kinds.
This ends the series on the prime hunting regions in South Africa. Combined it is about 1,000% larger than what is available in Zimbabwe, as an example.