Exploring the Namibian coastAugust 22, 2012
Oanob DamAugust 22, 2012
by Sven-Eric Kanzler
For a few seconds we see only the sky. Then the vehicle slowly tilts downwards and comes to a standstill. All around us the slopes drop steeply from the top of the dune. Far below the vegetated dune crests of the Kalahari spread out in all directions. Our driver, Hennie Möller, hardly seems to notice the heavenly beauty of yellow grass, rusty-red sand and deep-green bush. With an antenna in one hand and a receiver held to his ear in the other he starts turning in all directions. Suddenly there’s a beep. “There he is.” Hennie smiles. He’s referring to the male lion we’ve been tracking for the past half-hour. We quickly climb back into the car. Down the dune we go and off to where the signals came from. We’re in the grips of ‘hunting’ fever…
Stalking a lion in the huge surroundings of the Kalahari Game Lodge in south-eastern Namibia (near Mata-Mata) is a unique experience. Hennie, who runs the lodge with his wife Nettie, has already told us that a male and two female lions live here. They are from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (the former Kalahari Gemsbok Park straddling South Africa’s and Botswana’s border), which starts east of this farm on the other side of the national border. In 2002 the lions were caught with the help of a tranquilliser gun and released in the Kalahari Game Lodge environs with the permission of Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism. This unique project across national borders was devised for the benefit of the Kalahari lion.
The new home of the lions covers an area of 24 000 ha (240 km2). A 2.40-m-high electrified fence sees to it that they stay inside – though apparently they haven’t had much of an urge to leave yet. “They use an area of 12 000 ha,” says Hennie, who keeps record of the movements of the cats by entering the GPS co-ordinates into his computer. They are tracked by the radio signal from their collar-transmitter being picked up by directional aerial. The volume of the beeping sound indicates the direction and distance of the transmitter. This way every stalk – whether with or without guests – is crowned with success.
Up the dune, taking our bearings, and down again. Slowly but steadily we’re getting closer. “There,” Hennie exclaims, “on the dune.” It takes concentrated scrutinising before a large dark hump on the distant dune crest turns into a crouching male lion. Ever so carefully Hennie drives closer – until we are just 10 m away. The lion yawns disinterestedly and looks the other way. We’re beginning to feel uneasy. “He’s totally relaxed,” Hennie calmly reassures us. “Once he starts looking at us, widening his eyes and twitching his tail, we’ll have to watch out.” Now we feel it’s safe to lift our cameras and release the shutter. Fantastic! Through the telephoto lens the massive cat seems close enough to touch! Just too bad it’s overcast and raining – today of all days. In sunlight the pictures would surely be dazzling…
While we’re clicking away happily, Hennie supplies details: “This is N/oep, meaning ‘the Boss’ in the language of the San. He is six years old and will be fully grown in another two years. He doesn’t like this weather much.” As if to confirm this, N/oep slowly gets up, stretches luxuriously and moves down the dune with dignity – without giving us a second glance. Indeed, the Kalahari lion is even more impressive than his counterpart in Etosha. And it’s not often that you get this close to a lion…
We decide to track the two lionesses as well: seven-year-old N/hai (meaning ‘dark’) and four-year-old N/adi (‘the youngest’). It’s a long search; ever so often the signal disappears or changes direction. “Strange,” Hennie muses, “they seem to be on the move.” All of a sudden we see them, concealed by grass and shrubs, faces smeared with blood. “They’ve been hunting,” Hennie says. And they are still feeding on their kill, a young gemsbok. This is another excellent opportunity for us to take pictures. We don’t mind the collar. After all, this gadget is the means of tracking and watching these animals in the wild – which is unparalleled in Namibia. Soon there could even be cubs. So far both lionesses have been injected to prevent them coming on heat; this will not be repeated next year.
Apart from the lions there are also two cheetahs in this area (named Afri and Foundi after the AfriCat Foundation, which supported the project in every way). There are also 1 600 gemsbok, 5 000 springbok, 400 ostrich, 250 red hartebeest, 230 eland and 21 giraffe. In fact, in total there are more than 50 species of game here, and over 200 bird species. Overnight accommodation is offered in unpretentious, rustic and very well-maintained chalets, as well as a camping site. You can cook your own meals or let yourself be spoilt in the restaurant. It is advisable to book at least two nights so that you can enjoy the four-hour lion stalk (morning or afternoon) at leisure.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘04/ Jan ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.