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YYour first encounter with the legendary black-maned lions of the Kalahari will be unforgettable. You’ll find them in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kalahari Desert conservation area that links South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
You'll need to visit the Kalahari to see the legendary black-maned lions, and the best place to find these awesome beasts is in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in South Africa's southwest corner.
This immense desert of scrub and sand that lies between South Africa, Botswana and Namibia comprises one of the largest stretches of sand in the world – it covers 2,5-million square kilometres of southern Africa.
In many ways it's the romantic desert of endless sands, high dunes and vanishing horizons immortalised in countless Hollywood epics, but because of the abundant desert grasses, there's also lots of scrub about.
You'll stay at any one of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park's attractive lodgings, and when you set out early in the morning, before the desert sun is at its fiercest, it's then that you may well catch a glimpse of your first black-maned lion.
Keep your eyes wide open as you drive slowly along, searching the dry river beds, looking in pools of shade under the infrequent trees, listening for the warning calls of birds that often reveal the presence of a predator.
In the evening, as the setting sun colours the dunes from pale pink to glowing orange to deep red, check the waterholes, where thirsty lions drink before setting off on their evening hunt.
What is it that makes the desert-dwelling black-maned lion so special? It's not their size, although they sometimes tend to be slightly larger than their golden-maned counterparts. It's rather the contrast between their tawny bodies and the long black mane that surrounds that familiar face, framing it so dramatically.
It's not a sight you'll easily forget.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Tel: +27 (0)54 561 2000
How to get here
By road from Upington. You can fly to Upington from Johannesburg or Cape Town and hire a car at the airport.
Best time to visit
Any time of year, although winter can be bitterly cold at night, and summer fiercely hot in the day. Try to avoid the South African school holidays in July and December.
Tours to do
It's well worth booking a guided night drive or an early morning guided walk. Both offer great opportunities to spot those black-maned lions.
Choose a 4X4 if possible, as it will enable you to reach some of the park's most beautiful and remote camps.
Length of stay
Plan on at least 4 nights, longer if possible, and try to stay at more than 1 camp.
What to pack
Lightweight clothes for day, warm clothes for night. Sunblock and hat. It is also wise to carry extra water in the car with you in case of a breakdown.
Where to stay
Twee Rivieren is the main camp with all the mod cons, a restaurant, bar and pool. But try one of the wilderness camps such as Bitterpan or Gharagab for a true desert experience (book well in advance to avoid disappointment).