The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas on the continent.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is where you go for the ‘great escape'. The more time you spend here, the less chance you have of returning home. The reserve is so vast and remote, that there is every chance that you may not meet up with another soul for miles. You are in for some fabulous adventures that you may not experience in any other reserve, such as strange barking geckos and fantastic fiery red sunsets.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was initially proclaimed to protect the Bushmen's hunting rights, and covers an area of 53 000 square kilometers of diverse landscapes. Add in the Khutse Game Reserve, and you have one of the world's largest protected areas anywhere on the planet pretty much to yourself.
Because of the arid conditions, you will not find large groups of animals together. There are, however, times when migrations take place during which the animals concentrate around the remaining waterholes. The mighty black-maned lion is a world-renowned attraction, but cheetahs, giraffes, brown hyenas and gemsbok also offer fantastic sightings. The backdrop is an endless sea of shimmering pans and golden grasslands stretching from one horizon to the other. Across this sea of singing grass and sand, mopane, camelthorn, Kalahari apple and silver cluster-leaf trees stand in grand isolation.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is also one of the world's most uninhabited regions, with less than 1 000 people living there - half of whom are San. Four fossil rivers flow through the reserve, among them the dusty carriage-way of a watercourse that meandered through the northern Kalahari 10 000 years ago, and which today is known as Deception Valley - a prime game watching and camping area.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was initially designed to provide a homeland for the indigenous San Bushmen, a people of nomadic hunter-gatherers who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Interactions with these incredible people are a source of unlimited knowledge of the area, its animals and the history.
The vastness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is magnified by the various salt pans such as the Sunday, Leopard and Piper’s pans found in the area. The grasslands appear to stretch endlessly to the horizon, and the warm neutral colors clashing with the red and purple hues of the sunset make for exceptionally scenic landscape photography.
The Central Kalahari is unlike many safari areas in Southern Africa. There is no internet, no crowds, no shops, and most significantly no water (except at the lodges). It is the true embodiment of Africa - a wild place, completely sheltered from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The ancient fossil river beds are a constant reminder of our human frailty and the fleeting passage of time.
Guests to the reserve will be welcomed at OR Tambo International Airport where they will be assisted in boarding a pre-arranged flight from Johannesburg to Maun, which will take visitors straight to the northern region of Botswana. From Maun, guests will be transferred via a charter plane into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the most remotely situated reserve in Botswana. Driving to the park through Botswana is arduous and especially dangerous in the evenings. If you wish to visit the reserve, African Sky will ensure that the drive is as short as possible, and only involves driving from one of the resident airports to the lodge in question.
It is best to visit the reserve in the beginning of the year from January to April, during and after the summer rains, when the grasslands are well-watered. Traveling at this time is probably the most difficult, as vehicles can easily become stuck in the soft wet sandy roads, but not to worry - experienced rangers will navigate you through the wilderness.
During the dry season, from May to October, the park is extremely dusty and warm, with no relief in the form of rain, and the animals are sparsely distributed. The park also experiences extreme weather fluctuations and can be exceptionally warm during the day, whilst the temperature drops beneath freezing point in the evenings.
The anthropological history of the Central Kalahari Game reserve predates the establishment of the reserve in 1961 with thousands of years. It is hard to pinpoint at what time the area started being occupied by the San hunter-gatherers - more commonly known as Bushmen - but anthropologists estimate that they have been in the Kalahari for at least 40 000 - 70 000 years, maybe even longer. When the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was establish in 1961, the original idea was that it will serve as a sanctuary for the Bushmen and that they could continue their age-old way of surviving in this harsh environment as nomadic hunters without any influence from the outside world.
The reserve was closed for 30 years until self-drives were allowed in the 1980’s and 1990’s in small and controlled numbers. The reserve contains a number of fossil rivers that were discovered to be rich in diamond deposits in the 1980’s. The Botswana government then went ahead to evict the world's oldest inhabitants from the area. From 1997 to 2002, almost all the Bushmen were removed from the land to camps outside the reserve. After the Bushmen took the government to court, they won the human rights case to return home in 2006. The Botswana government still didn’t give the Bushman proper access to the reserve by banning them from the boreholes that they destroyed when the Bushmen were evicted, and following another appeal to the high court the Bushmen only gained access 5 years later in 2011.
For such a dry and arid region, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is host to an immense amount of wildlife. All the animals that are found here had to adapt to dry conditions and the ones that did so most effectively occur in the highest numbers. The most abundant antelope found here are the gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, red hartebeest and eland, which are all excellently adapted to live with very little or no surface water, obtaining the water they need form the vegetation they eat and not wasting any water at all. And where there is prey, there will be predators as well, the most illustrious being the Kalahari lion, the only lion sub specie still alive to bear a pitch-black mane.
Other predators include cheetahs, leopards and caracals. Omnivores include the very cunning black-backed jackal and highly secretive Cape fox. There are also a vast amount of insectivores, including aardvark, honey badger, meerkat, yellow mongoose and bat-eared fox. The ostrich, also known for surviving in these dry conditions, occurs across the reserve. There are, however, wetter areas that play host to herbivores like African elephant, white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, blue wildebeest, sable antelope, impala, and predators like wild dogs, brown hyena and spotted hyena. Also keep an eye out for Chacma baboons, Cape ground squirrel, Cape hare and porcupines.
The Kalahari is the largest sand basin in the world, covering over 900 000 km2 including most of Botswana, the northern part of South Africa and stretching across Namibia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its name is derived from Tswana and translates to “the great thirst” or “a waterless place”. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is situated in the northeastern part of the world’s largest sandy savanna. It is almost impossible to fathom that such a diverse ecology can be found, due to the harsh terrain and unyielding climate of the region, and yet a variety of vegetation types such as sand dunes, sandveld, bushveld and acacia woodland are evident in the area.
The area is also a world-renowned geologically significant area, and is a popular destination for archaeologists studying the geomorphological processes that have occurred over millennia. Fossil riverbeds, such as those found in Deception Valley, and the various pans, illustrate the positions of primordial rivers that once flowed into the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi. The silhouettes of the sparsely scattered timeworn trees, like the camelthorn specie, against the backdrop of the flat plains and the open skies are synonymous with the area. The area is also of critical importance to social studies - an example of harmonized interactions between man and nature
Game drives in the reserve are a great way to cover a larger area of the expanse and are accompanied by experienced rangers, which sometimes include members of the San Bushmen tribe. Guided Bushmen walks with the indigenous people are tremendously stimulating and the transfer of historical knowledge passed on from generation to generation is a precious gift to take home. A night spent under the Kalahari sky, stargazing and breathing in the untouched air, leaves one feeling rejuvenated and allied to the earth. The absence of unnatural lighting means that the stars are strikingly bright and constellations are easy to spot.
The area is also particularly well known for its birding opportunities. The occurrence of a variety of small prey that live in the sand and bushveld attracts a multitude of raptors. Landscape photography and videography prospects, especially scenic sunrises and sunsets, are literally all over the place, so be sure to pack extra batteries. It is important to reiterate that the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is situated in a very harsh environment and regulations of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks should be taken seriously and adhered to at all time. Venturing off on your own is not a good idea, and can be very dangerous.
Memorable experiences in the Central Kalahari are largely centered around relishing the seemingly infinite space, barely touched wilderness and relative solitude that you'll enjoy while in this vast reserve.
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