Caracal rendezvous

Caracal looking out over her domains
Caracal captured through the vegetation
Caracal Rendezvous by Johan Siggesson (Facebook | Instagram | website):

Just in time before darkness, we reach the winding single-track road leading up the dunes to our camp. Our Land Cruiser is set to 4 wheel drive to cope with the soft sand. The strong Kalahari sun is quickly receding and the darkness is once again dominating the landscape. My first day in the Kalahari desert is soon just a fleeting memory.

I have visited Africa a number of times before, but this would be my first time in this very special area. Together with my co-travelers I am spending almost 4 weeks in the south-western corner of the Kalahari – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Africa is so much larger than most people realise and distances and areas are often vast. Just play with the thought that inside Africa you could fit The US, all Europe, and China. The Kalahari desert on its own is the size of Spain x 2 and the KTP is approximately the size of Switzerland.

The KTP is a transfrontier park which essentially means that the park straddles the border between two countries. In this, case those countries are South Africa and Botswana. This is done for the benefit of conversation so that animals can roam freely without man-made obstacles. The park is bordering Namibia to the west and has almost reached legendary status amongst nature photographers. Its impressive landscapes, stunning desert light and great variety of birds and other wildlife should be enough to make it onto any wildlife photographer’s bucket list.

Sunrise in the Kalahari

The chirping of birds and a slight hint of light on the horizon is revealing that a new day is breaking. The day started like most other days in the Kalahari, but little did I know that on this day I would bag one of my most favourite shots ever.

This night, like so many other nights in the desert, was rather chilly. A few minutes under the warm blanket before getting out of bed is therefore warranted. After a few rusks and a warm cup of tea I’m ready to head out. Kalahari rarely disappoints so a new day is always an exciting one.

In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park it is strictly forbidden to drive off-road without a special permit so with the rising sun warming my back, we drive down the same winding road we had driven up the day before. We need to reach one of the 2 main arteries in the area. The road that goes along the dried-up Nossob river-bed heading north is our best option. Along this road animals are attracted to the regular water holes.

It doesn’t take long before we stumble on our first cat of the day. A lone cheetah stuffed to the brim. The round belly reveals that she had a full breakfast this morning. After admiring this graceful cat in the morning sun, I decided to create an in-camera double exposure with this master of speed. The morning light was still there and the first image for the double exposure was her lying in the sand dunes. I noticed the morning light reflecting beautifully on the leaves of a nearby bush. I decided to put some more life in the image by using an out of focus image of these leaves as my second image for the double-exposure.

Double exposure of Cheetah

Double exposure of Cheetah

The day went on and after sightings of Brown hyena, a young leopard in a tree and numerous grazers and other animals we got a tip of a female Caracal that had been sighted in the area. A Caracal is a rare sighting and a luxury to be able to photograph. We hurried along and started searching. The habitat, with shrubs, grass and small bushes, was a perfect hunting ground for this medium-sized cat. The Caracal’s main food sources are small mammals, birds, and different rodents. This was a locality with loads of potential prey.

Caracal in its environment

Caracal in its environment

As mentioned before, no off-roading is allowed so we were bound to this single road. We drive slowly and scan the surroundings. We scanned both sides of the road for what seemed to be an eternity at the time. When, what we deemed to be perfect Caracal habitat finished, we would turn around and drive back the same stretch of road, turn again, scan, drive, turn, scan, and drive again. We were grinding up and down this habitat until someone said stop (for the 100th time). A slight movement had caught our attention. Could it really be this elusive cat?

We stopped the car, switched off the engine and everyone was glued to binoculars and telephoto lenses. Scanning the bushes for those iconic ear tufts until finally, patience paid off and someone got a glimpse of this beautiful Caracal. We were rewarded with the most glorious sighting. Although keeping her distance, she was not overly shy and kept on with her business whilst we were carefully following her on the road. She was in a hunting mood and she treated us to a successful hunt and a few less successful ones.

Caracal looking out over her domains

Caracal looking out over her domains

If you thought finding her was hard, try getting her in a good position for an image…. As mentioned before their preferred habitat consists of bushes, grass, and shrubs… Not ideal for a clean shot, unfortunately. Luckily she was comfortable with us and after several attempts, we got a few chances where the vegetation thinned out somewhat and we could get a few clean shots. One of my favourite images though, is of the Caracal shot through some of the vegetation.

Caracal captured through the vegetation

Caracal captured through the vegetation: we got a tip that a caracal had been sighted in a certain location in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and we slowly drove the small road up and down more times than I can remember and finally, there it was. We managed to follow this female for a decent amount of time. Luckily she was in an area without too much shrubs.

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