Camp Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana

Our final location was Camp Kalahari in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans of Botswana, formed when the enormous Lake Makgadikgadi dried up tens of thousands of years ago. Our first evening there, we were treated to sunset refreshments on the edge of a salt pan. A jackal trotted along the salt pan as the sun was setting. After that, it seemed completely empty. Walking out onto the salt pan, the calm silence was striking.

Sundowner refreshments overlooking a salt pan

Herd animals of all types gathered around water sources.

Springbok, zebra, and wildebeest grazing and drinking
Zebra and wildebeest lined up for a drink
A Rorschach test of zebras sipping at a pond

Germinated and nourished by the nest, this tree is growing out of a 100-year-old termite mound.

Tree growing out of a termite mound
African savanna hare

Our first morning at Camp Kalahari, we got up dark and early to go see a mob of meerkats with Ona and Shati, our local guide and driver. Moto, the meerkat guide, has been tracking and spending his days with a group of meerkats for the last seven years. We met up with him right at sunrise at the burrow where the meerkats settled in the previous night. After waiting for the meerkats to emerge from their burrow with no signs of activity, Moto speculated that they may have been scared out of the burrow by a predator over night, or maybe just got an early start. He took off to find them and we went on our way.

Waiting in vain for the meerkat emergence

Right away, we happened upon several lions milling around a gathering of zebras and wildebeests. The zebras were on full alert, watching the lions and ready to signal the group to bolt.

The closest lioness was walking through a scattering of trees, so we drove around her to park where she would emerge from the trees. The plan was to get some photos as she emerged and walked in front of the truck. Instead, she walk straight toward us, which felt a little menacing as previous lions had mostly ignored us. When she got up alongside the truck, just feet from us, she flopped down in the shade of the canopy. She didn't care about us, just our shade.

Lion lying in the shade

After we had taken our fill of photographs, Shati moved the truck enough to take away her shade, hoping she'd do something more interesting. Rousted, she walked a loop around the truck, then ambled over to join another lioness in the shade of a tree. They greeted each other with a nuzzle; so adorable.

Two lionesses sharing a chin scratch

Around 8 a.m., two and a half hours into the drive, we stopped for a lovely breakfast out of the back of the truck.

Breakfast from the back of the truck
Leopard tortoise
Lion pondering a leopard tortoise
Cape ground squirrel

Click on the photo below to see the Steenbok's fun fuzzy ears, presumably optimized to hear predators through the wind.


The Camp Kalahari experience included a guided walk to learn about the traditional bushman culture. They showed us a variety of ways they use local plants and a detailed, in-hand examination of scorpion anatomy with a live subject that was carefully returned to its nest when we were done.

Live scorpion in hand

The helmeted guineafowl were so common everywhere we visited that we didn't take a lot of photos of them. Their trademark maneuver was running alongside the moving truck then darting across the road barely in front of it. Click on the photo to see the lovely black-and-white pattern on their lower body feathers.

Helmeted guineafowl
Red-necked falcon
Red-necked falcon in flight

The black-backed jackal was pretty common, from the first night we saw one trotting across the salt pan. This one looks a bit disheveled, or maybe moussed up.

Black-backed jackal

On our last morning, these jackal pups were quite a sight with their little heads peering up over a slight mound.

Black-backed jackal pups
Jackal parents sharing a little alone time

Mom was serving a two-course meal that morning, breast milk and regurgitated meat from her obviously recently-filled stomach. The pup on the left is eating a chunk of the latter.

Mom feeding the pups while dad watches from the background
Jackal pups wandering about after breakfast

Our main goal that morning was to re-try the meerkat experience. We learned later that the meerkats didn't get moving early the previous morning, they had slept in. Fortunately, we were able to get the second time slot the next morning, which gave us time to eat breakfast and find the jackal family before meeting up with Moto and the meerkat mob.

Tom photographing meerkats foraging
Meerkat scanning the horizon

Meerkats are prodigious excavators and spend their foraging time digging deep to find buried treats. Among the meerkats' favorite foods are beetle grubs and scorpions.

Video of meerkat digging for breakfast

Here we see the last few bites of a freshly-caught scorpion. Yum.

Meerkat eating a scorpion

Moto demonstrates the meerkats' propensity to climb whatever, or whomever, they can to improve their view of the salt pan.

Moto as a meerkat perch

Mostly the meerkat troop scampers around at a pretty good pace, with individuals stopping to dig for food then hustle to catch up with the group. Moto had us move along ahead of the party and lie down in hopes they would find us interesting for an elevation boost. It took a few attempts, but Cathy was able to have a moment with this adorable female.

Cathy having a tête-à-tête with a meerkat

Having passed inspection, Cathy was approved for meerkat elevation enhancement. Moto took a photo with Cathy's camera while Tom was shooting from a different angle. Thanks, Moto!

Meerkat standing on Cathy's head, as photographed by Moto
Video of meerkat climbing Mt. Cathy

We had a wonderful time on this trip and saw everything on our wish list. Thanks to Ona for the sharp eyes, animal expertise, photography insights, and knowing how to position us for where the animals were going to be.

Group photo with Ona

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