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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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