Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park South Africa – Botswana

Kgalagadi South Africa it is one of the most popular places in South Africa too experience wildlife, especially predators. Every aspiring wildlife photographer has to visit the Kgalagadi, and it should definitely be on their “to do” list if you have not been there before.

Doves drinking water all at once, on a very hot day in the Kgalagadi desert at a water hole.
The ring-necked dove also known as the Cape turtle dove or half-collared dove. All drinking water at once

Kgalagadi means place of thirst.

Kalahari Black-mane Lions, Leopard, Cheetah, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, Honey Badgers, Meerkat, African wild cats, and raptor species, including the majestic Martial and Tawny Eagles and the famous Bateleur Eagles are some of the highlights to look out for. Below is a  lioness that fights with the King of the Kgalagadi during  the mating period, and she is definitely not holding back. It is this kind of action that you can expect to see in this dry arid region in South Africa. The waterholes are clear from shrubs and thickets, as well as the river beds where most of the action is taking place. It is this uniqueness that distinct the Kgalagadi from any other  national park in South Africa. It is truly a photographers haven.

Lion Fight
Kgalagadi Big Male lion fighting off a female attack
Aggressive Lion Fight at Kgalagadi, South Africa. This male lion and female was mating when the female suddenly turned around attacking the male

The Bateleur Eagle ( Berghaan in Afrikaans) is one of South Africa’s most beautiful eagles. If you want to photograph this large eagle, then Qubitje Quap  waterhole, about 10km  north from  Nossob rest camp, is the place to be. This is their favorite  waterhole, and you will find them there in midday to early afternoon. They are excellent models to photograph and very photogenic.

Bateleur Eagle
Kgalagadi Bateleur Eagle with spreaded wings
This Bateleur coming in for a landing at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi, South Africa. The Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) eagle is the most famous of the snake eagles.

Another beautiful eagle in South Africa is the Tawney Eagle. It is a big eagle, and like it name says it is tawny in coulor and piercing brown eyes. I was very lucky to photograph this eagle at such close range during our  last trip to the Kgalagadi.

Tawney Eagle
Tawny Eagle at waterhole in Kgalagadi
Beautiful Tawny Eagle at Kgalagadi waterhole. Tawny Eagles are medium-large eagles in size, measuring up to 72cm in length.

Another rare cat species to see is the African Wild Cat. Looking very similar to a domestic cat. It is a solitary cat outside the breeding season. It lives from mouse and rats and will occasionally eat birds.

African Wildcat
African Wild Cat walking in the late afternoon in high grass
The African Wild Cat is similar in appearance to a domestic cat; however, it is proportionally larger and has longer hind legs.

Sprinbok fights is the norm at the Kgalagadi in spring season when it is also the mating season. Big herds can be found in the river beds. A unique feature of the Sprinbok is pronking. It takes several leaps into the air with the back bowed and the white flap lifted. They are very tame, and have right of way in the roads.

This two male Springbok fighting in Kgalagadi, South Africa
This two male Spring-buck is fighting in Kgalagadi. Dust every where. The frighted for almost 5 minutes until one of them run away.

Laner Falcon, best know for the high speeds of up to 150 km/h in which it  comes in low and fast. It will strike a bird in flight and stun it. It will then follow it to the ground and kill it. This image shows the  Laner Falcon with a dove in its claws.

Laner Falcon
Lanner Falcon flying with a dove in its claws.
Lanner Falcon flying with a dove in its claws, at a waterhole at Cubitjie Quap. Using extremely high speeds it surprises its prey mostly mid-air.

Another beautiful bird in the Kgalagadi which you will definitely see every where, is the Grimson Breasted Shrike. You will normally found them on the ground under big trees or in the trees itself.

Grimson Breasted Shrike
Beautiful pair of Crimson-breasted shrikes on a branch.
Pair of Crimson-breasted shrike on a branch in Kgalagadi South Africa

The fasted predator in the world is the Cheetah. It reaches speeds of up to 100km/h and faster. This high speed is normally reached in just a few seconds from charging its prey. Normally after 250 meters it running out of breath and stop the chase.  It feeds on small to medium antelope, and in the Kgalagadi you can be sure to see charge or two for a Springbok, ostrich or bat eared foxes.

Big Cheetah female walking in Kgalagadi with the cub about 10 meters back.
Big Cheetah female walking in Kgalagadi with the cub about 10 meters back. The cheetah is a large cat native to Africa. It is the fastest land animal.

Here are a few images of two female leopards fighting.  It was not the “right time of day”,  surely not the best light or the best images, but  wow, what an experience! Like only the female species can do. A real “CAT….” fight.

Leopard Fight
Kgalagadi Leopard Fight doing the Tango
The leopard – Panthera pardus – Luiperd is a member of the Felidae family. Mother and daughter territorial fight – Kgalagadi

In the photo below, it looks like both female leopards are balanced on their tails. This was definitely a territorial fight. We were following the one leopard in the river bed and was surprised to see another leopard from the other direction walking towards the one we were following. The next moment all hell break loose. A cat fight like I have never seen before. I visited the Kgalagadi now 5 times and each time I visited it it delivered different action for the trip. The Kgalagadi never disappoints and is full of surprises.

Kgalagadi leopards fighting in mid-air in the Auob River bed
The leopard – Panthera pardus – Luiperd is a member of the Felidae family. Mother and daughter territorial fight.

The fight only lasted for a few seconds, but it was a vicious few seconds between these two ladies. The two moved up the hill in some bushes and one could still hear some snarling, but we never saw them again. To read the full story of this cat fight read my trip report “Leopard Fight in Kgalagadi”

Kgalagadi leopards in mid-air fighting in Africa
The leopard – Panthera pardus – Luiperd is a member of the Felidae family. Mother and daughter attack

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a large National wildlife game reserve and conservation area in Southern Africa. The park straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana and comprises two adjoining national parks: Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The total area of the park is 38,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq. mi). Approximately three-quarters of the park is situated in Botswana and one-quarter in South Africa. A beautiful sunset in the Kgalagadi. One of many sunset or sunrise sightings in the Kgalagadi.

Kgalagadi Sunset
Kgalagadi Sunset at Mata Mata Campsite South Africa
Unforgettable sunset in the Kgalagadi. The Kgalagadi Trans frontier Park incorporates the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa.

A herd of Gemsbok’s or South African Oryx is silhouetting against the golden sunset. Leaving the river bed on their way to sand dunes for the night to to grace and sleep. This mammal is very tough to live in the arid areas of  Africa. Oryx adapted to live in the dessert and get their water from the food they eat. They have long spear horns witch are very dangerous. They are very aggressive when cornered or injured and there are stories of them killing Lions, one of there main predators with their sharp horns.

Gemsbok at sunset Kgalagadi South Africa silhouette
The Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) is a large antelope in the Oryx genus. It is native to the dry arid regions of Southern Africa.

This is our most favorite place for wildlife photography, due to the vastness of the area and the result of uncluttered photographs. There are three main camps, Twee Rivieren, Mata-Mata and Nossob and many wilderness camps. The main Camps are well equipped with campsites, chalets, a shop for obtaining basic foods or equipment, and have very good ablution facilities. There are several well-spaced waterholes along the routes in the Nossob and Auob river beds. Some of the waterholes have sweet water and a lot have salty water. Drive slowly and be patient. The best time for photography is early mornings and late afternoons, when the light is perfect for photography. The red dunes and the dusty sunsets are really something. The quietness and the remoteness of this region gets under one’s skin very quickly, and there is always a reason to go back.

Below two big full grown male lions in there prime, teaching a younger male a lesson or two. The fight was severe, and  one could feel the trembling on the ground as they were roaring, but this is the mature predators’ way to kick the younger males out of the tribe. The mature lions want to mate with the females, and take over the pride.

Kgalagadi Lions fighting, teaching a young male lion a lesson
Two adult male lions attacking a younger male lion. Learning him a lesson at Marie se Draai in the Kgalagadi South Africa.

We were on our way out when we saw a carcass of a Eland Bull. This two Black Back Jackals were fighting over who may feast first and who not. A n event that plays off daily in the Kgalagadi for survival of the fittest.

Black-Back Jackal
Two black-backed jackals fighting
Two black-backed jackals fighting over a carcass in the Kgalagadi

In the Botswana side, there are a few popular wilderness campsites as well. Rooiputs, Polentswa, Mabuasehube, are but a few. There are no fences, and the predators and other animals visit the campsites on a daily basis. This may cause much havoc around camp, especially if you want to setup or pack up camp, and there are several lions making them selves at home in the campsite.

A Brown Hyena also called a Strandwolf, chasing away some Black Backed Jackal from a carcass leftovers after the lions feasted on a Gemsbok. It is mostly a scavenger, but will feast on smaller things like mouse, insects and bird eggs.  When confronted they will raise their long brown hair to look bigger and more intimidating.

Brown Hyena
Kgalagadi Brown Hyena chasing a Jackal from a dead Blue willdebeest carcass
Brown Hyena chasing a Black Backed Jackal from a dead animal in Kgalagadi South Africa.

Male lion on the chase. Lions are one of the biggest attractions in Africa. It is a well muscled cat, most active during the night and sleeps most of the time during the day. Male lions sleeps up to 20 hours of the day. It is the female lions that do all the work, killing most of the prey. What makes the Kgalagadi male lions so beautiful is the big black manes. It makes it looks much more intimidating and bigger. Lions lives in a pride that can range from small groups as little as 5 to groups larger than 30.

Big African Male Lion (Panthera Leo) busy running in the Kgalagadi Africa
This Big African Male Lion (Panthera Leo) created a lot of havoc chasing all the teenagers around while he was trying to mate with a female.

A good tip for all the aspiring photographers out there: do not charge up and down the river bed from one waterhole to the other, searching for big game like the lion, leopard or cheetah. Lions are mainly nocturnal, can sleep up to 20 hours a day and are therefore not good photographic models. Have a look at the smaller animals around you as well. You would be surprised at all the other photographic opportunities in this park, besides the big predators. When you want to book for accommodation at the Kgalagadi then do so well in advance, to prevent disappointment. When I talk well in advance then a year in advance. There is a lot of Wilderness Camps in the Kgalagadi as well. Although I never had the change to visit one, I hear they say that it is really worthwhile to visit them.

Smaller animals-birds and insects

Yellow Wasp drinking water.
Wasp at a water pool in Mabuasehube, Kgalagadi Botswana busy drinking water
Tiger Snake on a tree at night in Mabuasehube
Tiger Snake. A slow-moving nocturnal snake found at Mabuasehube campsite in Botswana
Elephant Shrew at the Qubit'je Quap waterhole Auob River Kgalagadi Africa
Elephant Shrew photographed at the Qubit’je Quap waterhole Auob River Kgalagadi Africa. It was busy eating some seeds just next to my car at the waterhole.
Ground Agama with blue head at Kgalagadi South Africa
Blue Headed Tree Agama – Agama Atricollis. It is often seen on the trunks of trees, where the blue head of the breeding male is hard to miss.
Kgalagadi small bird filling the air with beautiful sounds
Photographed this buff streaked chat at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park South Africa.
Pearl Spotted Owl Kgalagadi South Africa looking at you with big eyes
Pearl spotted owls are one of Southern Africa’s smallest owls. They are ‘earless’ owls.

If you have been to the Kgalagadi recently, then tell us about your experiences in this magical place. Or if you need information about the Kgalagadi, let us know.

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Fanie Heymans

Fanie Heymans is a wildlife photographer and nature lover. Based in the West Coast at St Helena Bay, South Africa. Images of his wild life photography was featured in the local Wild Magazine, Wildcard blog, and internationally by Media Drum World, and Mail Online.

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