The Mysterious Eland Migrations Of The Kgalagadi
In November, we took a trip to stay at !Xaus Lodge on the South African side of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The lodge is spread across a red dune belt overlooking a heart-shaped salt pan surrounded by the vast, open expanses of the Kalahari Desert. This place is characterised by overpowering silence, punctuated only occasionally by the roar of lions marking their territory.
But whilst big cats and an array of the plains game that comprise their prey are commonly found throughout the park, for most visitors to the South African side, including myself, eland are not on the list of expected wildlife sightings. The largest of Africa’s antelope species, these majestic creatures are usually exclusively found on the Botswana side of the Park.
Yet every few years or so, for reasons that remain unknown, this trend changes and great herds of eland slowly and determinedly migrate south. Whilst the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania are feted for their annually forecasted great migrations, the sporadic and infrequent migration of Kgalagadi’s eland has, thus far, remained impossible to forecast.
The most recent migration that began this September is said to have brought more eland to the southern areas of the park than ever witnessed before and this has presented problems for the this part of the park, for other wildlife in the area and for the eland itself. The solar-pumped waterholes, reservoirs and water troughs that usually suffice for the area’s game could no longer keep up with the sudden influx of thirsty eland, whilst water troughs were also trampled to pieces under the feet of the waves of heavy eland. Disgruntled tourists have found many waterholes drunk completely dry which has meant that the usual array of animals that could be spotted coming from the dry plains to drink at the water’s edge have often been nowhere to be seen, having had to search out water elsewhere, or perhaps even go without.
Furthermore, while game rangers insist that the migrating eland look healthier this year than during the previous migration in 2007, on our recent trip we saw numerous carcasses littering the hot sand with no visible sign of having come to anything but a natural end. Many others we saw looked skinny and lethargic; some rangers said that their depleted energy levels were also making them very easy pickings for lions and other predators that can be found in the park. SANParks were said to be collecting some carcasses to further investigate the causes of the deaths, but nothing has since been released.
Considering all of this, however unpredictable the eland’s migrations might be and whether any blame may be directed at anyone within the organisation, SANParks must learn from this current situation and look to be better prepared for the future. But even for the present, no one seems to know when the eland might return to Botswana. In the meantime, we can only hope that the wildlife in this part of the park, including the newly-arrived eland themselves, are not too affected by the changes, and that visitors to this incredible desert wilderness are not too disappointed. -by Chistopher Clark
For more information on !Xaus Lodge, visit www.xauslodge.co.za