As any regular visitor to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park will know, it can be dry or green, hot enough to fry your brain or cold enough to freeze your blood, but it’s always rewarding. Take as an example the entertainment put on by the lions, the leopard and the camelthorn tree when we visited in March 2015.
But we were walloped awake by a sphinx-like leopard in the shade of a grey camelthorn tree about a kilometre north of Auchterlonie waterhole. Amazingly in this increasingly popular park, we had her to ourselves for nearly 20 minutes before other cars arrived, time enough to notice a springbok kill in a high branch above us.
We watched her morning and afternoon for two days. She mostly followed the shade or hid behind a thorn bush when too many cars were coming and going and making noise. On the third morning, I was certain she’d have gone; there wasn’t much meat left on the carcass and it was starting to smell too skanky for anyone but scavengers to find appealing.
When they arrived at the grey camelthorn tree where the last remnants of the leopard kill were still dangling, there was much excitement, all eyes on the prize. Big Daddy tried to climb the tree but quickly realised he was too heavy. The cubs were very vocal, moaning in frustration before one of them – let’s call her TopCat – took a leap into the tree and climbed to the branch with the kill. Ungainly, undignified, she inched forward onto the branch, a few ominous creaks here and there. We were so close to the action that if the branch had broken, both branch and lion would have catapulted onto the bakkie next to us.
The instant he reached ground the others bounded up hopefully but he growled fiercely and they backed off. While he was enjoying the ribcage Stage Left, one of the others at last came round the front of the tree, discovered the head and carried it off Stage Right. Two young lions chomping happily.
This is why I love lion cubs and teenagers. They’re still keen on action and adventure so they're great fun to watch, whereas mom and dad sleep passively. We watched the youngsters for almost two hours and there wasn’t a dull moment. We barely noticed the 39-degree heat.
It’s sightings like these tree-climbing lions of Kgalagadi that all of us Kalahari addicts live for in the bush.
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Lions cause an adrenalin rush at Polentswa, Kgalagadi
Mating Kgalagadi lions
Life and death in the Kalahari
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