The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Botswana, February, 2023

This past February we once again packed our beloved tent and headed for a few weeks immersion into Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve (The CKGR). At 52,800 km2, this is the second largest game reserve in Africa. In this massive space, at any given time, there may only be a hundred people or so.

It is wild, it is remote, and it requires respect with the dependence on self-sufficiency being at a premium.

Nobody for many miles, our home in The CKGR.

Our target in this wilderness was to be black-manned lions, the most magnificent representation of the species still remaining in Africa.

Over the past four trips, spanning nearly two months in total, Monique and I did not find a single truly beautiful black-manned lion in an area that allowed us to create a minimalistic, yet complex work that was dependent on many unique ingredients coming together.

This time however, was very different.

We have, over the course of the past few years, identified certain areas in the park where simple clean backgrounds, and strong leading lines provide a landscape for creating a potentially beautiful photographic work.

We had in previous trips patrolled these areas many times each day at speeds that allowed us to spot puffadders and cobras curled up at the base of small Acacia trees. Honestly, due to our finite fuel supply, we got to know each guinea fowl, each ground squirrel and each gemsbok very well. What we didn’t find howver, was our black-manned lion.

Whilst driving the 2,500km to reach to The CKGR, we were closely monitoring weather reports as huge summer storm cells were starting to build. As such, we pressed on as fast as we could in order to reach the park before the inevitable rains began. This was crucial as heavy rain turns the black cotton soil into unnavigable and treacherous roads.

We thus arrived at the park earlier than planned and reached our campsite just after noon. From our campsite, which was surrounded by a blush of jangled thorn trees and grass, we could see the huge cumulonimbus clouds stretching tens of thousands of feet into the air. It looked ominous, and we quickly erected our tent, complete with plastic sheeting for waterproofing.

Flooded, who cares, we’re in The CKGR!

Knowing what was coming, we headed out on a drive to at least get a look at the area and a feel for what might be possible over the next two weeks.

When only 10km down the road, in a particularly suitable area for my style of work, we spotted a dark shape in the distance. I raised my binoculars and unbelievably saw our quarry. It was a beautiful black-manned lion walking towards us; and towards one of our preferred photographic areas.

Having still not properly unpacked, I scrambled to find my bean bag, get my settings right and start predicting where the best area would be to set up for the shot.

First thing however, was to get this magnificent lion comfortable with our presence, and so I approached to within 100m, giving him plenty of time to feel that we were not a threat to him.  Feeling comfortable, he proceeded to come straight towards us, at which point I reversed another 100m, and so we went.

Finally, I reversed to a point where my backgrounds were clean, the lion’s path was straight at ours, and I had plenty of time to get into position.

I lay dead still as he padded closer, and then I started to shoot. I could see straight away the scene was beautiful with the first drops of the approaching storm bouncing off his luxuriant mane. He was so unfazed by me that he kept gazing over the grass, which was exactly what I wanted.

I don’t like taking any photographs of stressed or angry wildlife, and the fact that he was doing what he would have done whether I was there or not, was perfect.

When he was no more than twenty meters away, I slowly raised to my feet and started reversing the car again. Once again we repeated the procedure to the point that eventually this magnificent male simply walked past where I crouched, completely at ease.

Icon of a Continent

It had been a magnificent experience, made that much more special looking back and watching him carry on his way, without deviating, as if our encounter had never happened.

I looked at Monique, knowing that in just the first 20 minutes of being here, we had captured what we had on previous trips put in so much time for, with no reward.

I finally had a powerful image of a completely wild black-manned lion, captured at close quarters from an engaging angle.

Added to this was an uncomplicated and aesthetically pleasing background that ticked all the boxes for my style of work.

It would also turn out to be the best opportunity of this entire trip. The approaching storm flooded the roads, trapping us in small section of the park for the next week. During this time, no other vehicles could get in or out of this area, and we saw no other human beings, pure bliss!

Copyrighted by Chris Fallows @2020