Finding Tswalu’s elusive species
Going on a game drive requires patience and perseverance in a reserve the size of Tswalu. While interactions between the big cats and their prey are exhilarating and seeing rare and endangered species is always a privilege, these type of encounters are not the only reason most guests choose to safari with us.
Tswalu is one of the best places on the continent to see five of the most elusive species in Africa, namely aardvark, pangolin, brown hyena, aardwolf and bat-eared fox. Game drives here provide up-close sightings of species that prove highly elusive elsewhere.
Sightings are always rewarding, but often hard earned. Animal tracking, which often entails crisscrossing the reserve’s intricate network of dirt roads and sandy trails, certainly adds to the thrill of finding one of the elusive animals, like aardvark, especially if you’ve never seen one before in the wild. Guide and tracker work as a team and know how to read the signs left in the wild, especially the animal tracks. Getting off the vehicle with them to crouch in the red Kalahari sand and examine a set of tracks is part of the process.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of choosing Tswalu is that each party of guests is assigned their own guide, tracker and private vehicle – this becomes your ticket to freedom and provides the flexibility on game drives to choose what to do and how long to stay out. Immersive, guided excursions, whether in the vehicle or on foot, slowly reveal the fascinating diversity of this vast reserve. A private safari allows for unlimited time at sightings, whether you choose to stay out all day during winter or feel like heading out after dark in the summer months.
‘The elusive five are all nocturnal species,’ confirms Deirdre Opie, Tswalu’s safari manager. ‘In summer, the hot day time temperatures force aardvark and pangolin to stay in their cooler burrows for longer and they only tend to come out very late at night. During the warm summer months, guests often go out on a night drive after dinner. The stargazing is also phenomenal! In winter, the night time temperatures plummet as soon as the sun sets, so many of the elusive animals will come out to forage in the afternoon to ensure they get enough of their food source before it gets too cold. A late-winter afternoon is a good time to find an aardvark above ground, foraging for ants and termites.’
Tswalu’s open expanses provide excellent visibility, which makes it easier to spot foraging animals, like aardvark or aardwolf, from a distance.
‘Following one of the elusive species on foot takes patience and practice,’ says Deirdre. ‘You need to give the animal space to move undisturbed. Aardvark are particularly sensitive to wind direction and noise, so a quiet, slow, downwind approach is needed. If we find a pangolin track in the morning it will most likely lead to a burrow. Then we return later in the day or evening, depending on the season, and wait until it decides to come out to forage. Some sightings of the elusive five are ‘meant to be’. Others are just the pure luck of being in the right place at the right time,’ concludes Deirdre with a smile.
Making photos for National Geographic
The photographer, Thomas Peschak, takes us behind the lens to reveal the creativity, patience, time and luck that went into these once-in-a-lifetime shots.
The hyenas that call Tswalu home
Neither dog nor cat, there are three species of the hyena family found in Southern Africa, namely the aardwolf, brown hyena and spotted hyena. All three occur in the Kalahari and have made Tswalu their home.