The lion is the undisputed King of the Kalahari. We spent six hours one day watching a pri
Lions, Jackals and Scares . . . Oh My!
As sound of the ranger's Land Cruiser faded into the darkens, our first thoughts were, "We need to get a fire started." Allen volunteered to manage spotlight duty while I scrounged the edge of the bush for dry grass and kindling. My heart raced, my eyes were trained intently on the darkness and the words, "Stay in your tent," swept through my mind. I scraped a few handfuls of grass together and quickly scrambled back to the safety of the camp. Lions have a distinct and ominous roar, and they did come to visit this night. Through the Camelthorn acacia and scrub brush, we could hear the unmistakable call of a pride of lions and a few scavenging jackals on their nightly hunt. Even with a campfire blazing, the ARB camplight on, and strobe in hand, we didn't stray far.
The "low fuel" light on the Hummer's instrument panel came on at 10:00 a.m. the next morning as we reached Xade Camp. We'd stopped to talk to the military fire extinguishers, who informed us that the fire had grown to 12,000 square miles. It was moving fast across the Kalahari and, "It could be dangerous, be very careful." Though we had 20 gallons of fuel on our ARB roof rack, the extra 50 kilometers to Xaxa Camp and the fuel-sucking soft sand had pushed our previous range estimates over the limit. An executive decision was made to head to Ghanzi for fuel-a 250-kilometer round trip. Other than giving a lift to another park ranger who ran out of fuel, the drive was quite dull-faster, but dull. Rather than backtracking, in Ghanzi we decided to change plans and re-enter the park via the Tsau north gate.
On long journeys such as this, the first few days have a definitive plan and schedule and seem to last forever. But after a week or so, the days meld together like a dozen scenes from a bizarre dream. Gemsbok, kudu, steenbok, and honey badgers darted across the trail on the route to Tsau, and two nights and 400 kilometers later, we set foot on the edge of Deception Pan.
Letiahau Water Hole at 6:00 a.m.: I'd turned the ignition key an hour earlier so that we could reach the watering hole by sunrise. We'd seen three lions there the previous night, and hoped, as sadistic as this may sound, that we might get lucky and witness them taking down a springbok or other ruminant. They were still there, in the shade, and with the enthusiasm of three lion-skin rugs. Jackals, kudu, springbok, and gemsbok waited at a cautious distance-and watched. Temperatures soared past 100 degrees, and this was the only water for miles. But no one dared approach the water. Other than elephants, the lions are the kings of the Kalahari. We crawled through the H3's sunroof and watched the scene for four hours. The lions didn't so much as raise a paw. Though they seemed dead, lions can go from sleep to full-speed in two seconds, and no one, no matter how thirsty or how hot, was willing to take that chance. Besides, stupid tourists can't expect to flick on a switch and have the foodchain kick into gear when we arrive. So we were patient-and another two hours ticked by.
Having a reliable rig is paramount for a trek through remote regions of the world. One nig
Wildfires, and T4A
Deception Pan was launched into the global limelight in the early 1980s by a pair of young zoologists, Mark and Delia Owens. Living in tents on the edge of the pan for seven years, they studied the wild dog, hyena, brown-maned lion, and published a book, Cry of the Kalahari. Allen had a copy of the book and had been reading me excerpts. Driving around the pan, we identified the Tree Island on which they lived. Allen deposited some of his grandmother's ashes, observed a few moments of silence, and we envisioned life in this truly remote and wild place.
Smoke was rolling in like a fog bank as we headed back to camp, and by dusk we could see the faint orange glow of fire to the southeast. Hot winds blew from the south, and the faint glow was growing and moving. By 11:00 p.m., we were getting concerned. We packed everything for a quick departure and set our alarm for three hours. We were awakened by the smell of smoke. Peering out the window of our roof-mounted ARB tent, the entire horizon was fiery red, flames whipping into the air like a crimson geyser and we thought, "We need to get the hell out of here."