Khutse Game Reserve
Continuing in the safari theme, I wanted to tell you about a weekend I spent in Khutse Game Reserve. It’s in the proper Kalahari Desert, directly adjacent to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Now it isn’t quite as desolate as the Sahara Desert where there’s only sand dunes and absolutely no plants, but it’s still quite remote. There are a few lovely salt pans which have long golden grass and absolutely no trees, and other areas often have shrubs and small trees but not much more.
Now, despite what you’ll see in these photos, Khutse is substantially less dense in terms of wildlife than the other places I’ve visited, including the places before and after this. However, what it lacks in density it makes up for in remoteness. It’s one of the most remote places I’ve ever been- during the whole weekend in the park (2 nights), I think we saw a total of under 5 other cars. Feeling so profoundly surrounded by nature was amazing, even though there was overall less on the game drives than in other places I’ve visited.
The park is about 250 km away from the capital, though the very sandy roads near and in the park prevent you from arriving very quickly. Some of the biggest pans are near the entrance, and we were able to see a number of interesting animals. I saw 2 types of antelope which I hadn’t seen elsewhere: springbok (South African’s national animal) and the oryx. The springbok were very cool because they weren’t very skittish and several of them took an interest in our car, so we were able to see them from a very close range. They’re particularly beautiful in this environment- the vast golden grassy plains accents the white and black of their faces. I’d wanted to see an oryx for a long time- they are one of the larger antelope species and have extremely impressive, long, straight horns. One of them was spending time with an ostrich for some reason. It was very hot so you’ll see that most of the animals were staying under trees.
We were camping, so when we got to our campsite we got everything set up and made a delicious feast on the grill. Again, it’s hard to communicate how raw this experience was. In the distance we could hear what sounded like a wild dog pack howling at each other. Unfortunately we never got a look at them since they were too far away- they were my favorite animal as a kid and I’ve wanted to see them probably more than any other animal in Africa. The sunset over the plains was spectacular as well.
The next day we went on a game drive in the morning- we didn’t see too much, though we were introduced to the black bustard, a very strange bird which looks civilized from the ground and screams like it’s being murdered while flying. We also found a giraffe wandering alone and some more oryx. But even if this was sparser than in some other places, just being out in nature was fantastic. The way the grass glistened in the early morning light was pretty special. We hung around the camp for most of the day, then headed back to the nearby waterhole at night, where a few kudu were cautiously drinking. The sunset we saw from that area was unbelievable. I can’t fully describe what made it so special, but it was some combination of the colorful sky, the dark silhouette of trees in the distance, and the golden tips of grass with a subtle purple in the areas which wasn’t directly getting hit by the sun.
Of course I had to take some attempts at night photography- I took a couple with the truck and a couple with just the grass. It’s so dark there that the Milky Way is very obvious to the naked eye. Trivia question: which direction was I facing when I took the photo?
The next morning we wanted to quickly go check out the waterhole before breakfast and packing up to leave, but it turned into one of the coolest safari experiences I’ve had. First we saw that the waterhole was empty, but then someone in the other car spotted a couple lionesses over in the weeds. We drove over to see them, then a few minutes later saw some kudu approaching the waterhole. More streamed in, then they decided to come toward us; there was something in a patch of grass near us that they loved eating and playing around in. They must have been about 30m (100ft) from the lionesses, who were obviously paying attention. At one point a baby wandered off toward the lionesses and I was certain we were going to witness a takedown, but it didn’t happen. Another adult followed and was eating a branch no more than 50 feet from where the lions were waiting, but again they didn’t pounce. Eventually one stood up but didn’t move toward them, so they all scattered. Apparently they weren’t hungry that day. While other carnivores like leopards and cheetahs are more opportunistic hunters who will kill whenever an opportunity presents itself, lions will let an opportunity pass if they have eaten recently. While it would have been amazing to see a kill in the wild, they’re also quite gruesome so many in our party were happy to see them wait for another day. The slideshow to the right goes through the event in chronological order!
Lion vs Kudu Showdown
Even then the fun wasn’t quite over. After we finished cleaning up our campsite, we discovered a scorpion digging under a root at a nearby tree. Apparently the tail is used for its muscle to move things in addition to self-defense, as you can see in this video. I was happy to see it from afar, since these are the deadly ones which could kill you within a few hours. We were so remote it would have been difficult to get to an adequate health facility where that could be treated in time.
Overall, absolutely fantastic weekend spent in nature, making some new friendships which sustained for the rest of my time there and strengthening existing ones. Absolutely loved every minute of it.