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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Johan Steyn

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Summer in the Kalahari

Heat of Day

Summer in the Kalahari has many faces. By late October it seems almost certain that the rains are going to stay away. The pans are empty with cracked dried mud which carries the footpints of birds antelope and cattle.

Thousands of zebra and wildebeest congregate at the waterholes in the dry Boteti river, playing a survival game. A quest for water and grazing, chased by elephants and ambushed by lions. It all translates into sound. At night, the trumpeting of elephants and the calls of the zebras. In the early hours of the morning the roaring of lions. At daybreak, carcasses near the waterholes and the cries of the vultures.

Glittering Horns

Then faint wispy clouds appear, then cirrus clouds, then thunderclouds and violent storms followed by soft rain that lasts for days on end. Trees turn green overnight, dense grass grows out of dry sand. The pans in the Makgadikgadi fill up. The zebras and wildebeest run into the green grasslands. Flamingoes settle in the great pans and start their breeding cycle.

The dry deception valley turns into a green grassland. Gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest congregate on the plains. Springbok fawns prance in the early morning light and drop their guard. A cheetah breaks her cover, picks her prey and snuffs out its brief life with one elegant sprint.

At the edges of the waterholes clouds of butterflies suck the moisture out of the mud.

Fragile Wings

A reminder that this is only a brief, transient paradise and soon the rains will be gone.