Camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – animal encounters at Mata Mata campsite by 14 year old Rhian

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The three siblings walk through the Mata Mata campsite towards the hide in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The campsite at Mata Mata

What do you expect to see at a rest camp in a national park? Maybe a few springbok or birds? What we saw over 3 days camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at the Mata Mata Rest Camp was absolutely amazing.

After we arrived and finished setting camp, my brother Kai cut open a plastic water bottle and filled it with water for the birds and squirrels (he added some rocks and twigs so the insects wouldn’t drown). We then went to the great hide which is right in the campsite to check out the waterhole and a huge herd of springbok came down to drink.

A large herd of springbok walking along the Auob River bed towards the waterhole at Mata Mata - - seen while camping in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
A lovely herd of springbok coming past the camp

While we were in the hide we saw, one at a time, little meerkat tails running around the fence until eventually they whole group were in the camp running through trying to find food.

Thirsty meerkats drinking out of a plastic bottle cut in half and left out for them with some water in it - seen while camping in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Very grateful for some water to drink

They had just finished going through our friends’, Marco and Polo’s (we gave them these names as they we great playing Marco Polo with us in the pool) campsite, and then the meerkats came to our campsite and ran all around until they found the water. Then while they were drinking, we had the chance to see their teeth and far out they were sharp – they were like little daggers.

A close up of a meerkat cleaning its back paw with some fearsome looking teeth on show - seen while camping in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Look at those teeth!

We also had squirrels come around and scavenge for their share of food (bits of our meals that had fallen on the ground). We also had a mum and a “baby” bird come around. The baby looked bigger than its mum yet the mum just continued to feed it.

A mum sparrow weaver passing some food over to its baby
A mum sparrow weaver feeding her very big baby

When night fell we constantly checked the water hole to see if anything was coming down to drink, but no luck. Then when all of us kids went to bed and were asleep Mum and Dad were still awake and a few seconds after they put their lights off Mum heard the jackals yapping and howling so she went to see what was there and in the distance she saw three lionesses walking into the dunes!

A stunning red-breasted shrike - - seen while camping in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
A stunning crimson-breasted shrike

The next evening we were relaxing at the camp and chatting to Marco and Polo when all of a sudden I turned around and saw two figures walking to the waterhole. I immediately thought in my head “they’re not springbok” and before I knew it I said “Lion”. Once I said that everyone looked and sure enough two lioness were walking towards the waterhole. Cadan went running around to everyone telling them about the lions. Soon everyone in the campsite and nearby chalets were at the fence watching the lionesses drinking. We had made friends with these two older ladies and when they saw Cadan running around the camp they knew something was there so they came running down to look and they were so excited.

A photograph of the hide on the edge of the Mata Mata campsite and overlooking the Auob River bed
The hide at Mata Mata Restcamp

The next day we booked a night drive as it was our last night in the Kalahari but after an amazing day seeing a mother leopard named Meira with 2 tiny cubs cross the road we thought we had used all our luck. But just as dark was falling the 2 ladies came up to us to say their good byes as they were leaving the next day. They had just left us to say good bye to Marco and Polo when we went down to the fence to see what was by the water hole and all of a sudden Mum saw something walking and said “Jackal” and I said “That’s not a jackal” so Mum looked through binoculars and said “OMG it’s a caracal!”.

Then everyone was at the fence and Cadan was running around telling everyone again. The hide was full at that point so I just hung outside at the fence and we watched as the caracal went to take a long drink of water. A few seconds later the yapping and howling of the jackals pierced the silence – the sound was horrible, like fingers on a chalk board. Everyone was chattering with each other and Karen (one of the ladies) and me were saying please be quiet. Once the caracal heard the sound of the jackal it started to hide underneath one of the logs around the water hole. Then the jackal went away and the caracal went to have more water, but the minute the jackal came anywhere close the caracal was back under that log. Eventually it slowly crept behind the pump until you couldn’t see it any more. While this was all happening Dad was cooking dinner – so thanks Dad! Then another jackal appeared, so the caracal did not budge. Eventually, when the caracal thought it was safe it started walking away from the waterhole, but when the jackal noticed it it sprinted faster than you can ever imagine and then, for a second, it was like a cat and mouse playing and then I saw something I never thought was possible – the caracal flew into a big tree! I never knew a caracal could jump 3-4 meters in to the tree – it was such a sight! The jackals just stood there yapping at the tree. By then we had to eat dinner and get ready to go on our night drive.

A very blurry night time photograph of a caracal leaving the Mata Mata waterhole - - seen while camping in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
A blurry night photo of the amazing caracal slinking away from the waterhole

The next morning it was time to pack up and leave – sadly our last day camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as we were heading into Namibia. While Mum and Dad were putting down the tent a little white scorpion came scurrying out. So they quickly moved the tent but the scorpion kept running, trying to get into the shade of the tent. Then a fork tailed drongo saw the scorpion and swooped down and promptly caught the scorpion in its beak. It took it to a branch and started whacking it against the branch to kill it. Meanwhile a so-called baby drongo – which looked the same size as the mum – came and started chirping to tell mum it wants the food. But the scorpion wasn’t dead yet so the mum kept whacking it on the branch until it was completely dead. Then the very kind mum just gave it the scorpion and the baby slowly gobbled it down.

A forked tailed drongo with a scorpian in its beak with its baby looking on
The mum fork-tailed drongo gave her scorpion catch to her rather big bub
A forked tail drongo with a scorpian in its beak

A few times during our stay we had bugs on our tent and the birds would just fly and grab the bugs and then fly off to eat them.

Who could have thought you would see so many animals when camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – especially in one campsite in only 3 day. It just goes to show don’t only look for the big animals – have a look around the campsites and appreciate the small creatures. They have an amazing life, but of course seeing the lions and the caracal was also absolutely amazing.

Rhian's borther Kai taking a photo of a visiting meerkat
Rhian’s brother Kai taking a photo of a visiting meerkat

Travel Africa is a family-owned and operated Australian-based travel company. We have a passion for southern Africa which we love to share with our clients. Our passion comes from over 25 years travelling in the region. We have first-hand experience of all the destinations we offer as well as the diverse styles of safari holiday. We tailor-make you safari to suit your requirements. Travel Africa customises self-drive safarisguided safaris, camping safaris, luxury safaris and combination adventures and, having travelled extensively with our own children, we have particular expertise in family travel. We are ATAS accredited and pride ourselves in providing superb, personalised service..

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of our favourite places and so well worth the effort to visit. Read more about this magical place in these blogs:

Feeling inspired? See the following Travel Africa itineraries for ideas on how we can integrate the Kgalagadi into a fantastic tailor-made safari for you in southern Africa:

Magic of the Kalahari - self drive South Africa, close up of a #Khomani San elder
Self drive South Africa and Namibia - Cape to Windhoek with a herd of spirnbok running down the Auob River bed in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Self drive Namibia and South Africa - deserts, dunes and canyons - sunset over thr red dunes of Sossusvle
i - camping itinerary

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