The Rain on the Plain

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana is a very large protected area, covering some 52 000 square kilometres.
Until very recently, the reserve had almost no development within its borders and anyone wishing to visit had to camp in the designated camping sites. These sites are well situated but very basic, even lacking running water.

Kalahari

So for some years the reserve has enjoyed a steady flow of intrepid visitors, all bringing everything they need with them.

In 2009 the Botswana government granted permission to two local safari companies to build permanent camps in the reserve, thus creating some new options for visitors. The two companies, Kwando Safaris and Wilderness Safaris, both have a solid reputation in the country for running low-impact safari camps for many years.

Kalahari

Kwando erected their camp at Tau Pan, close to the main road network that runs through the park, while Wilderness Safaris set up their permanent camp in the eastern part of the reserve. Before this camp, called Kalahari Plains, was built there was no development at all in this section of the reserve.

While these new camps have been greeted with enthusiasm by most people, some people have expressed the sentiment that with the creation of permanent camps something has been lost and that the Central Kalahari is no longer as ‘wild’ as it once was.

Kalahari

After just returning from two visits to Kalahari Plains, I felt the need to express my own opinion on the subject.

The camp itself runs almost entirely on solar power. A local network of roads was created in the vicinity of the camp but no off-road driving is allowed. In five days at the camp, we saw cheetah, lion, bat-eared fox, honey badger, jackal as well as herds of oryx, springbok, red hartebeest and springbok.

Importantly, I also learned that during the construction of the camp, clear evidence was found of illegal hunting. However, daily game drives from the camp mean that there is now a presence in the area and that seems to be deterring any such activities. The notion that there exist vast unused sections of protected areas that are untouched by humans is for the most part incorrect, even in a country such as Botswana, where the human population is low and reserves are large. Wildlife is a resource, and people will go to great lengths to harvest it.

Kalahari

I believe it is better to have a low-impact camp which is generating income from wildlife for the country, as well as providing some form of protection for that wildlife, than it is to allow illegal hunting and poaching to gradually eat away at the herds. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Central Kalahari, whether camping *or* staying in a permanent camp, take it and get yourself there. The best game-viewing usually takes place during the summer, especially when it rains. You won’t be sorry: the wildlife and the landscape are spectacular, with big storm clouds providing dramatic backdrops for photography.

Visit my website for more: www.grantatkinson.com

Sign up to our newsletter:

Get our most popular blog posts emailed to you each week - sign up for our newsletter now!

About Grant Atkinson

I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page

, , ,

  • http://www.ChobeSafari.com Buddy Eleazer

    Thanks for the update. A while back, you emailed me about the CKGR and how it is one of the true last wildernesses and a place you would advise for a ‘different’ visit. It sounds like your love of the area hasn’t changed. The CKGR is a big place and 2 concessions doesn’t sound like much crowding … at this time. What is the approximate distance from these concessions and the nearest local towns? Also, you mentioned a few of the animals spotted, but in general how is game density? Would a morning drive yield near the game one would see in northern Botswana?

  • Pangolin

    Well said, Grant.

    Great to see the photos as well. Amazing how similar they look to what we saw when we were at Kalahari Plains just 10 *or* so days ago!

    It was great to be there with you and I certainly agree – get yourself there if possible.

  • http://www.grantatkinson.com grant atkinson

    Hi Buddy, the two permanent camps are so far apart that they would likely never see each others vehicles unless they overlapped somewhere on a full day trip. The nearest local town is 40Km from the main entrance gate, and is called Raakops. There are very basic supplies available there. There is also a small bushman settlement within the park that is approximately 50km from Kalahari Plains camp.
    Game density is ‘clumped’. You may see several hundred springbok, oryx, wildebeest and red hartebeest on a morning drive of say 50km. Activity is best captured in the first two hours of the day before it gets too hot. Lions and cheetahs are the most frequently sighted large carnivore. Badgers, bat-eared foxes and jackals are also around in good numbers

  • Ron Glazier

    I visited the Central Kalahari Game Reserve just last month and stayed at Kalahari Plains camp. The camp was very comfortable and well situated on the edge of a pan with a distant view of a waterhole. On our first evening game run we crossed paths of a lion pride of seven animals: two magnificent black-maned males, two juvenile males and three females. We follwed them for about 45 minutes and discovered they were headed to the waterhole opposite the camp. We returned to camp and watched as they passsed close by going to water. A herd of springbok posed as a backdrop. Next day photographed a coalition of 3 cheetah brothers at the same waterhole. Certainly worth the expereince at this time of year. Lots of springbok and gemsbok, good for birders as well.

  • johan de bondt

    I just spend two weeks in the CGKR (on a mobile trip) and can honestly say that the CGKR is still a wild place.

    As a photographer, staying in the lodges restricts you to the pans close to both camps (Kalahari plains tented camp/Tau Camp) as they are both quite far away from other areas likes Deception and Passarge Valley …

    Although gameviewing is best in summer (when it rains), be aware that some of the roads become impassable. We were surprised by a big thunderstorm near Letiahau and just made it to our camping site near Deception Valley. Others were less fortunate and had to spend the night on the road …

    I would highly appreciate if these camps (Kalahari plains tented camp/Tau camp) become a success for reasons mentioned in Grant’s article.

  • http://www.grantatkinson.com grant atkinson

    Hi Johan, you bring up some very valid points with your comments. For a visit that is focused on photography, I would definitely recommend at least some time spent camping in the campsites that are situated close to the Deception Valley *or* other wildlife hotspots like Sunday Pan *or* Passarge Valley. That way you get to take advantage of the very early morning wildlife activity. The big distances between the different areas means that to truly appreciate what the CKGR has to offer, one needs to stay in different sites within the park. I am sure you took some good pictures out there…as you always do!

  • johan de bondt

    Hi Grant,

    I found the CGKR a challenging area to work in as animal activity tend to stop very early in the morning as it gets too hot and picks up quite late in the evening again for the same reason.

    CKMOB-01 is an interesting campsite as you can either opt for Sunday & Leopard pan *or* Deception pan/Letiahau. It’s a pity that Piper’s pan is so far away from everything else – which makes it a real gamble going there.

    In my opinion, the Central Kalahari should be marketed as a complement to other areas like the Okavango delta and not as a place to see your predators. In general, marketing an area for its predators is tricky business as predator dynamics change over time and it puts extra pressure on the guides to provide those sightings.

    Having spent some time in the area, we were lucky to come home with some good stuff. My first brown hyena sighting near Owen’s camp was probably the highlight of the trip.

    Looking at your website, you have some great images too.

  • http://www.grantatkinson.com grant atkinson

    Hi Johan, I agree with you about the CKGR complementing visits to other wildlife areas in Botswana. And yes, it is challenging for guides to operate there too, as the big animals tend to hide from the heat quite early in the day. As soon as it gets a bit later I usually try to concentrate a bit on the birds of prey, jackals, ground squirrels and other smaller creatures that arent quite so sensitive to the heat. Good news about your brown hyena sighting, I hope you managed to get a picture. Grant

  • johan de bondt

    Hi Grant,

    I was lucky enough to get some good pictures as he/she was walking quite close to the road.

    You are very right to concentrate on smaller creatures and birds. I spent a lot of time with ground squirrels. Although I saw a good variety of birds of prey, I didn”t see them in big numbers like on my trip with Lee Whittam in November 2008. Probably there were better feeding grounds somewhere else.

    Johan

  • GRANT ATKINSON

    Hi Johan, we have applied for permission from the park authorities to build a small, ground-level hide at the small waterhole on the plain in front of Kalahari Plains. If we are given the go-ahead, this will be a great place to view and photograph raptors as they already visit the waterhole there now every day from around 10h00 onwards. I will keep you posted in that regards
    Grant

  • johan de bondt

    Hi Grant,

    Many thanks for the info. Really appreciated if you could keep me updated about it.

    Johan