Tracking Lions at Tswalu Lodge, Kalahari, South Africa

Published May 19, 2010 by Charles Ray

With its thornveld and majestic dunes, southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert is home to 70 different species of mammal, ranging from lions to giraffes; and over 200 species of birds. A sweeping expanse that winds from western South Africa north to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kalahari is one of the world’s last relatively untouched ecosystems, offering a glimpse of nature as it has existed for millennia.

In the midst of the southeastern Kalahari is Tswalu Lodge, at over 1,000 square kilometers, the largest private game preserve in the world. Tswalu, which means “place of new beginning” in the local language, is owned by the Oppenheimer family of DeBeers fame, and is an exclusive, high-end resort for those who want to truly appreciate nature at its finest.

During a recent two-day visit to Tswalu, I was able to experience the luxury that is often reserved for only the very wealthy, but more importantly, I was able to get a taste of nature that is unparalleled in its beauty and majesty.

The first day was spent getting to know my fellow travelers; a short game drive through the area of the preserve reserved for non-predators, and dinner with Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer, father and son, and the experience of sitting before a crackling fire listening to the wind blow across the veld outside my cabin.

The next morning, we went to the predator section; home to the King of Beasts, the lion. The sweeping scenery in itself would have made the trip worthwhile. Wildebeest, Mercats, and a profusion of other mammals and birds greeted us at every turn in the trail. After an impromptu barbecue near a waterhole, we took up the trail of a pride of lions that our guide suspected were resting not far from Tswalu’s private airstrip.

Two hours of circling patiently through the bush were finally rewarded when we came upon the pride, lolling in the shade of thorn trees some 150 meters off the track. The excitement was palpable as we cautiously moved in close to them; two young males and three females, resting in the midday hours, probably waiting until dusk to stalk their evening meal at a nearby watering hole.

After a few minutes of observation and photography, we left them to their activity and returned to the airstrip for our return journey to Johannesburg. Many would think this an indulgence, or even an excess; spending over $800 (less airfare) for a mere few minutes glimpse of a group of animals. To do so, however, misses the point. We live in a fragile world, and we humans are in danger of losing sight of the fact that we do not inhabit this planet in isolation.

Areas like the Kalahari serve as a pointed reminder of our interrelatedness with nature; they remind us that we are not alone. This place, tucked into a corner of South Africa, not far from the borders with Botswana and Namibia, did more for me than just provide an opportunity to get some priceless photos of lions and other wildlife; it reminded me of the great responsibility we humans have to preserve our planet.