Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Of Khutse’s elusive lions and broken trucks

I have visited most of Botswana’s pristine wildlife areas, including exclusive places like The Okavango Delta and recorded my experiences without any difficulties, but writing a travelogue on Khutse Game Reserve is a daunting task.

To the media entourage that made the educational trip last weekend, the game reserve is not interesting as its vegetation is not inhabited by bigger animals, like elephants or hippos with the only kings of the jungle found in the reserve being elusive lions and leopards.

Therefore, one preparing notes from the wild could be tempted to write a screaming headline ‘Khutse, land of no lions’, but my instinct tells me that if I stayed in the game reserve longer, there is a possibility that I would see the lions finally come to the water hole and possibly make their kill.

The trip to Khutse, some 250 km west of Gaborone, is not without its hiccups. Some rain on Friday morning delays the trip, but we finally take off at around 11 am from the assembly point at Big Foot Tours in Extension 10.

The trip that would normally take about three hours will now be an entire afternoon’s drive. There are many reasons for that. A travelling group of media personalities is an adventurous lot; they will want to make a stopover at Letlhakeng to fill up the cooler box or take a quick peep at Kaudwane.

The group from The Telegraph was joined by Yarona FM. Our driver was one Ken and most of the time we played catch up with the travelling convoy in front of us.

Our vehicle was a little bit slower and we realised at the end that the Surf we were using can be strong enough off road, but what is important is to know how to drive it on that terrain.

The vehicle got stuck on the sandy soils of Khutse more than the other 4x 4 vehicles and therefore, we were the last to arrive at the campsite arranged for Big Foot Tours.

Earlier during the week, when Amina Sebele, the Sales and Marketing officer at the tour operations company, called to say the trip is set for Friday and ‘please be informed that there is no water in Khutse’, I took her lightly.

Firstly, I thought there is no way one could stay in Kgalagadi without drinking water. But as we found out, the water was only available for cooking and there was no time to take a proper shower for two days; just enough water to brush one’s teeth.

The two 5 litre bottles of water we bought at a supermarket in Mogoditshane came in handy as we later found out in the heart of Khutse.

The four camps operated by Big Foot are about 60 kilometres from the main gate.

It is a mixture of sand and rough terrain, causing a bumpy ride, which makes driving difficult and more time consuming. As always, the Surf vehicle that my group was using was behind the rest of the group.

Just about 25 kilometres from the gate, we had the first breakdown as our vehicle was stuck in the sand for the first time and the engine was overheated. That was the time to use the first bottle of water we had saved to use in the camp.

We managed to cool down the vehicle and push it out of the sand while on the lookout for lions.

Less than 5 km from where we had the first breakdown, we got stuck again. This time around, it was sunset and getting dark; it was the time the Big Foot owner realised we might be having problems with our truck and came to our rescue.

At the camp, we realised that the Surf is suited for sandy terrain, but there are prerequisite measures to consider.

The air in the tyres was above the limit at 300 pa when it was supposed to be 180 pa. That was the first rule that we broke. Secondly, Ken, our driver, applied a lot of pressure on the accelerator when passing through thick sand.

You adjust the 4x 4 gear to the sandy situations and apply no pressure on the accelerator. But our driver got the two wrong.

For me during the journey, I was preoccupied with being stuck in the sand, rather than finding the elusive lion. Many of the media guys seemed to be camping for the first time, as seen by their uneasiness in sleeping in a tent with a mattress and no double base bed as is the case in a fully fledged lodge.

To me it was fun. I have slept at Moremi Game Reserve before, where there are even more dangerous animals like elephants that would make the stomach rumble, two metres away from your tent.

Therefore, I did not expect much from Khutse. The group talked of fairy tales of lions and our hosts telling of experiences with the most feared animal.

One employee told a story of coming face to face with the lions one day when they were setting up a camp for new guests and got their vehicle stuck in the sand.

They were forced to leave the vehicle behind and walk to the main gate where they met a pride of lions, but used what they had been taught on survival skills. They did not bother the lions, and the lions did not bother them.

Khutse Game Reserve, unlike other reserves, is located on vegetation similar to that in the CKGR. The vegetation is acacia savanna and the animals found here are lions, leopards, brown hyena and hartebeest.

Most of these animals can survive in drought. The water is mainly from the artificial water holes from around the two pans in the reserve.

Recommendation: Khutse is a nice place if you are from Gaborone because it is nearer to the city. I will recommend that you visit it for camping, but be a little patient with the animals, especially the lions.

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