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Kalahari Gems More articles...

It's a long dry and dusty road from Kimberley via the historic town of Kuruman to the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, wedged in the top most corner of the Northern Cape, on the borders of Botswana and Namibia. Tellingly small villages punctuate the route with names like Hotazel (hot as hell), reminding you that you are definitely in desert country.

Around the small town of Kuruman one notices the change in countryside - which becomes increasingly barren, with vast expanses of sun baked, dusty plains, dotted with acacia, blackthorn or camel trees stretching as far as the eye can see. The thorn trees assume the most amazing, obscure shapes and are havens for the weaver birds, which build gigantic nests high in the leafless branches. In fact large weaver nests are a trademark in the Northern Cape.

Weavers are highly sociable - as many as 600 build nests resembling giant haystacks in one tree. And if there aren't enough trees around - even trees are scarce in some areas - the enterprising weavers opt for telephone poles.

A must see near Kuruman is the Kalahari Raptor Centre, which provides a sanctuary for injured and orphaned birds of prey and small mammals. Birds are cared for in spacious aviaries, which are built over the canopy of the camelthorn trees so that the resident eagles can sit in the treetops and look out to the Kuruman hills across the Kalahari plains. Once their wounds are healed they are then released into the wild. Types of birds cared for the Martial, Black, Snake and Tawny eagles, Spotted and Giant Eagle Owls, and an ever-growing number of smaller birds of prey, such as falcons, buzzards and goshawks.

The Kalahari Gemsbok Park is desolate, but hauntingly beautiful, with its endless horizons, dry bone-white riverbeds and redbrick sand dunes. This magical desert wildlife park is home to the Kalahari lion, gemsbok, springbok, birds of prey and noisy geckos.

The latter are the only creatures to break the eerie stillness of this unspoilt ecosystem - a far cry from the concrete city jungles. And in this arid setting animals and vegetation survive under the hot African sun. Even if doesn't rain for months, little flowers and shrubs bloom miraculously - like Chinese lanterns in the desert.

This vast wilderness captures one's soul. As the old Kalahari farmer said: "Once you get Kalahari sand in your shoes, you keep coming back."

Copyright (c) Bev Mortimer


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