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Breaking the boundaries

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, bridging South Africa and Botswana, was the first peace park. Steve and Ann Toon have visited every year since 1997, and spent eight weeks there earlier this year. Here, they reflect on how it has changed, the challenges it has faced and what has made it an enduring and captivating success. Photographs by the writers
Dramatic storms and double rainbows pave the way for high-octane game viewing in the Nossob riverbed in southern Africa’s first peace park

Our muscles tense at the sudden movement. We’ve been watching in silence for over an hour, noting every twitch, head turn and tail flick. But this is different. Completely alert with ears pricked and body low, a cheetah is holding herself in check like a seasoned athlete on the starting block, eyes trained on the tiny springbok lamb. It’s been gradually drifting away from the protection of the herd in the dry riverbed straight towards the shallow gully where she’s hidden. Any second now…

Minutes later we’re marvelling in awe, and feeling sad in equal measure, at what just happened right in front of us. The explosive chase, the twisting run of the panicked young buck, allowing it to escape the reach of the cheetah’s claws at first try, followed by a second powerful sprint at full stretch down the riverbed, then that whirling plume of dust signalling her success – it all happened so quickly, yet felt like ponderous stop motion.

As the sun begins to set, we watch her now, spent from the chase, but still working hard to carry the dead weight of her meal out of the open, where she’s vulnerable to lions. We’re reminded that here in Africa’s pioneering peace park, where wildlife and arid wilderness are conserved in a partnership that transcends political boundaries, every day is an extreme battle for survival.

It’s January 2017 – the time of year when the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) is at its hottest, when the mercury regularly hits 40 degrees and it’s impossible to sleep. It’s a time of thunderstorms and double rainbows, when heavy summer downpours briefly revive the baked, semi-desert terrain. It’s when food for the wildlife becomes plentiful, for a short while at least, and it’s when many animals have their young. It’s also the time cheetah chases are a daily spectacle.

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