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Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park September 2008


matnikstym

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matnikstym

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

September 12-23, 2008

 

Roundtrip Airfare from Hilo, Hawaii to Johannesburg- $2000.00 pp

Roundtrip Airfare from Johannesburg to Upington-$185.00 pp

4X4 Truck Rental for 12 days-$1600.00

11 Nights Lodging in Kgalagadi- $825.00

Park Fees- $0 (Still had my Wild Card from last year)

Gas- $340.00

Food- $300.00

Gin- $72.00

Total Miles Driven- 1,537

First EVER cheetah sighting- PRICELESS!

 

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a large (14,668 square mile) park straddling the South Africa and Botswana borders in the Southern Kalahari Desert. Kgalagadi means “place of thirst” and the terrain is sandy with sparse vegetation. On the South Africa side there are 9 camps- 3 traditional camps and 6 wilderness (unfenced camps). The roads are sand or gravel, heavily corrugated, the skies are clear and the scenery is spectacular. The three traditional camps all have shops with mostly canned goods, ice, liquor and souvenirs and all have gas pumps-the only places to buy gas.

 

After last year’s self-drive trip through Kruger, I wanted something a little wilder and less crowded so I did some research through sanparks website and decided to go to Kgalagadi. Booked 4 nights in 2 traditional camps and 7 nights in 4 different wilderness camps.

 

Hilo to Twee Rivieren:

We left Hilo, flew to Honolulu then to San Francisco where we overnighted at the Clarion Airport Hotel. Pretty nice hotel, convenient to the airport and the lounge was opened until midnight, so had the first g & t’s of the trip. Left in the next morning for JFK. The United plane was all economy plus so it was a comfortable trip across the country. My duffel and back pack weighed less than 20 pounds, so carried both of them on the plane with no problem. Landed on time and took the train thing to the South African Airlines gate and off we went. The flights were long but even in economy, I had plenty of legroom and a wide choice of movies to keep me entertained.

 

Arrived in Johannesburg, went through customs and boarded the shuttle for the Southern Sun hotel near the airport. We stayed there last year and though the price had gone up ($190.00) it was comfortable and convenient. Had a great steak dinner and some double g & t’s ($40.00 for 2) and then off to sleep.

 

Got up early for our flight to Upington. The plane was a 29 seater, smooth hour and a half flight. Picked up the car (a 4X4 extend cab Nissan with a shell) and we drove into Upington to buy supplies for our 11 night stay. Found the grocery store with no problems and loaded up two shopping carts with food, coolers and hopefully everything we needed. Bought a stick of salami that was the best salami I’ve ever tasted and had salami and crackers at (almost) every sundower drive we took (with g & t’s of course)

 

Then off to the bottle shop for some gin when disaster struck…my Capital One card was declined! I had called them before I left to tell them not to cut it off but they did anyway. Luckily the shop took my ATM card so the gin was carefully loaded into the back of the truck with the rest of the groceries. Thought I had the round-about thing down when all of a sudden an ambulance (that I was heading straight into) sounded it’s siren and flashed it’s red lights. Oops, guess I didn’t have the round-about thing down, but soon found our way onto Highway 10 heading for Kgalagadi. It’s 265 km to the park on a very uninteresting, boring highway. To pass the time I started counting the bat-eared foxes that littered the road as flat bat-eared foxes. Lost count at 143! The last 30 km is gravel, but they are paving a new road into the park and it should be done someday soon. We did see the domestic Big 5 before we hit the park gate- Cow, Sheep, Donkey, Goat and Horse, so at least if things were slow at the park, we could check those off our list.

 

Twee Rivieren is the main entrance gate to the South African side of the park and the largest camp in the park. On the other side of the road you can see the Two Rivers, Botswana entrance. The camp is nice, with stone chalets. The chalets had 1 bedroom and 2 more beds just inside the door. There was a toilet, shower, sink, hot-plate, refrigerator, air conditioning and came equipped with all the kitchen utensils, plates etc, towels and soap and a braai off the patio. The camp has a restaurant, shop and the only phone in the whole park. The beds were comfortable but the pillows were thin and hard.

 

We got settled in, put all the meat into the freezer and went for our first game drive. We saw a lot of ostrich, springbok, wildebeest, jackal and Gemsbok-a beautiful animal! No cat sightings at all, but the scenery was beautiful and had a g & t, some salami and crackers at the waterhole and was happy to be back in Africa!

 

My opinion on Twee Rivieren: nice, quiet camp with a swimming pool and depending on your flight into Upington, the only camp that you can stay at on the first night in the park.

The shop is well-stocked except for fresh vegetables, the restaurant is good and for only 1 night, it served it’s purpose.

 

To Nossob: Nossob Camp is on the North-South route in Kgalagadi, a three and a half hour drive from Twee Rivieren. It’s also a traditional camp, a bit rundown. Reminded me of an old motor lodge from the Outback or the Palm Desert in California from the 60‘s. The room was o.k, fully equipped and comfortable. The drive up to Nossob we saw the same ostrich, springbok, wildebeest, jackal and Gemsbok-still no cats. There’s two rest stops along the way for stretching your legs or using the loo.

 

There’s a sign at the entrance to Nossob warning about jackals coming into camp, so watch your braai when cooking. There is also a hide here but in two days I only saw a few wildebeest come in to drink. We went on three game drives a day from this camp and still no cats! The first night we were Bar-B-Q’ing chicken when two jackals came up to the porch and laid down. It was so cool to be close to these wild things and I tried to teach them to sit, lay down, stand up etc. (all things my dog failed in obedience school) and they did catch on I think-they did lay down and sit on command. Of course we didn’t feed them anything, but I did drop some bar-b-q sauce on my foot which one jackal quickly licked off. When they realized they weren’t going to get anything from us, they moved on to the next chalet and plopped down waiting for a handout.

 

We stayed here for 2 nights and spent a lot of time on the road but still no cats! There are two main roads in Kgalagadi, north-south from Twee Rivieren to Unions End and east-west from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata. There are a few 4X4 roads but not many options other than driving the same roads over and over. That is my main complaint about the park, at Kruger you have options and loops to detour on but Kgalagadi you’re limited to basically the same roads. If the animals aren’t near the road, you’re not going to see them.

 

My opinion on Nossob: Rundown but comfortable, the jackals were cool and that’s about it. After 5 trips to Africa, I know that sightings are not guaranteed, but the reviews made it sound like there are cats at every bend (maybe there are at times, but not while we were there) but still, I was in Africa and enjoyed every ostrich, springbok, wildebeest, jackal and Gemsbok that I saw. The best sunrises were from this camp.

 

One more thing about Nossob-one of the cleaning ladies at the camp bakes fresh bread daily and you can order it at the reception desk. It was the best bread I’ve ever eaten, so if anyone goes to Nossob be sure to order some of her bread!

 

To Grootkolk: Left early in the morning for Grootkolk, our first wilderness camp. It’s about a two and a half hour drive (without stops) from Nossob to Grootkolk. Saw ostrich, springbok, wildebeest, jackal and Gemsbok and some nice bird sightings. I was just thinking of what to title my trip report “The Cats Went to Angola and I Went to Kgalagadi” or “Cheetahed Out of Cat Sightings in Kgalagadi“ when Tom shouted out “Lion!” Sure enough off to the left were four lions walking across the plain. Finally! One male and three female lions. Watched them for a bit then continued on and at the next waterhole more lions! One female with two cubs and two sub adult males. They were having a great time and were covered in mud. It was interesting to see in the background a herd of wildebeest, not in the alert mode, but not entirely relaxed either. After about an hour, they moved off and so did we. Farther up the road there was a field with about 20 bat eared foxes all hunched over looking for food.

 

Grootkolk has four tents in the camp and a tourism assistant (not a guide). The view from the tent is of desert and small hills surrounding the area. There’s a tent with bed, shower, toilet and a hotplate and sink outside in a gated patio area. There’s also a waterhole but in two days we didn’t see anything come to drink other than a secretary bird. The toursim assistant told us to keep the bottom door closed (the top was a traditional tent zipper like thing) to keep the snakes out. At night we closed the door, stuck a towel under the door, put the coolers on the towel, put our duffels on the coolers-no way a snake was getting in my tent! We were the only people at this camp so invited Isaac (the tourism assistant) to dinner, but he had to be home by dark-I think he was more afraid of the animals than we were. Had a nice conversation and gave him the last of our Windhoek Lager. There was a lion on the hill near camp and we heard him roar all night and into the morning, but never did see him come into camp.

 

From Grootkolk there is two options for drives-head back to Nossob or north to Union’s End. Union’s End is the South Africa-Namibia border post. We headed north and Tom spotted a leopard under a tree far from the road. We waited for him to come out but finally gave up and continued on. Saw the usual cast of characters, had salami and cheese for sundowners (and of course g & t’s)

 

Our second day there we drove the same way, lots of lion prints on the road and since we were the only ones in this part of the park (only saw one other car in two days) we knew they were fresh and probably from the lion that was roaring all night. Came around a corner and Tom yelled “Cheetah!” WOW! That animal was magnificent, one of my dreams come true to see one. The cheetah came towards the car, looked in, walked down the road a bit, plopped down and rolled around like my house cat. The cheetah walked alongside the car for about a half hour, looking for food but there was nothing around. Finally it walked off into the desert. We continued on and in about ten minutes there was a lioness walking down the road! So cool! She walked towards us, looked in then laid down on the side of the road next to the car. Spent about a half hour with her before she took off looking for food or her lion friends. An incredible day and sorry to say, the last close up cat encounter we’d have for the next six days. Drove to the south to the only working waterhole and had salami and crackers and of course some g & t’s. At this particular waterhole, there were always two Gemsbok, maybe they were the gatekeepers.

 

My opinion on Grootkolk: Very nice camp, clean, quiet and of course with only four tents, un-crowded. We lucked out by being the only ones there so that made it even more special. The waterhole was nice, wish something would have been using it and considering that most of the park’s waterholes in that area were not working, I’d have thought that it would be more popular. This was the coldest camp 34F in the morning and the hottest 108F in the afternoon. Since this was the only place we saw cats, it’s my favorite of the four wilderness camps we stayed at.

 

Back to Twee Rivieren: Since we had at least a six hour drive back to Twee Rivieren we booked this camp for another one nighter. As we were packing the car we heard lion roars coming from all directions. Said our good-byes to Isaac and drove out of camp. There were so many lion prints on the road it was unbelievable but we didn’t see any lions at all, they probably went up to Union’s End and we went the other way. We ate at the restaurant and had a very good lamb chop dinner with a couple of double g & t’s. ($30.00) Since our lettuce and vegetables had run out two days ago, I was craving a salad but there were no greens served with dinner. If anyone goes to Kgalagadi-buy more veggies in Upington! Each camp had a refrigerator that will keep produce fresh, at least as long as we were there. The only vegetables available in the camps were potatoes and onions, though I did see some cabbage at the Twee Rivieren shop.

 

Used the swimming pool here. The water was ice cold! Don’t know how it could be 100 F outside and the pool could be so cold, but it was refreshing though didn’t spend too much time in the water. Had a good nights sleep, it was warmer here and being in a chalet as opposed to a tent, there were no drafts.

 

To Urikaruus: Left Twee Rivieren and headed off to Urikaruus, our next wilderness camp. The roads in this area are worse than anywhere-heavily corrugated and made for quite a bumpy ride. It’s a two hour drive to Urikaruus and for much of that time we didn’t see anything other than a lone wildebeest or Gemsbok. We did see another car parked on the side of the road and asked what they were looking at. Two leopards, if you squinted, closed one eye and used some imagination, I guess there were two leopards out there but it was hard to tell for sure. There is a museum on the way so we stopped and walked around. It is from the time when there were settlers and farmers in that part of the Kalahari. We did see a puff adder in the road, but it was fast and moved off into the brush before I could get the camera turned on.

 

Urikaruus is probably the coolest designed “tent” and camp I’ve ever seen. There are four “tents” all on stilts with a walkway between them. They are two story, with the dining/relaxing tent on the lower level and the sleeping/bathing tent above. The lower level had the sink, hotplate, dining table, refrigerator and a nice deck with braai and another table and chairs. Another fully equipped kitchen (the only thing missing from the camps was a colander for straining pasta-but they all had a silver tea service complete with tray, creamer container, teapot, tongs etc.) The upstairs had beds, shower and another deck with chairs for viewing the waterhole which was off in the distance. The only “tent” feature they had was the zippered openings but they are putting in glass doors soon. It was cold at night with the tent flaps unzipped, but wanted to hear the sounds of Africa.

 

We spent two nights here and didn’t see much of anything other than ostrich, springbok, wildebeest, jackal and Gemsbok. There were a lot of eagles, secretary birds and a Skops owl, but for the most part it was disappointing. We did see three ostriches with twenty-one babies that were very cute. An interesting note about ostriches-the only true wild ostriches left in the world are in Namibia and the Kalahari, all others around the world are descended from captive stock bred for the feather trade. We did have salami and crackers and of course g & t’s at sundowner time with huge herds of wildebeest and one afternoon with some Hartebeest. A couple of times we drove up towards Mata-Mata and saw giraffe. At this point I was really missing elephants so the giraffe was a great distraction. The ladies in the next tent told us we’d be guaranteed to see lions at our next camp. (wish I would have bet them!) The only thing that came to the waterhole was a lone hyena one evening.

 

My opinion on Urikaruus: Beautiful lodging, unique design, nice view of the waterhole. The only complaint was the noise of the wood floor when walking and the tents are close together-could hear the man in the next tent do his morning fart routine and his wife scolding him (but it didn’t stop him!) Marius, the tourism assistant is an incredibly nice guy and he keeps the tents very clean. The mongoose in camp are friendly and obviously fed by guests as they all were sitting below the deck on two feet waiting for some handouts.

 

To Kalahari Tented Camp: It’s only 31 km from Urikaruus to KTC so we were in no hurry to get a move on. Left the camp and other than a large (twenty-three) journey of giraffe, we didn’t see much of anything. On this road there are a few loops which go by the waterholes (all were working). The weather had changed by this time and the hottest it got was only in the low 80’s F. Nights and mornings were in the low 40’s F.

 

Kalahari Tented Camp is the largest of the wilderness camps, with 12 tents including a honeymoon tent. Each has a gate around the car park to keep the hyenas from eating the tires, a cooking tent and a sleeping tent with shower and a deck with braai and table and chairs. Again the cooking tent was fully equipped and the beds were comfortable. This camp had the best pillows of all the camps. The sleeping tent has a glass and wood door and zippered windows, the cooking tent has a zippered flap. There is also a swimming pool here but it wasn’t warm enough to swim.

 

From this camp there are not a lot of options for game drives. Four km up the road is Mata-Mata and the Namibian border, down the road is the way we came. Spent a lot of time with the giraffes and had salami and crackers, and of course g & t’s with a family of 7 giraffe at sundowner time.

 

The first night there we heard a man yelling from one of the tents down the way and then I heard a noise on our patio. I opened the door, shined the flashlight into the eyes of the largest hyena I’ve ever seen. I said “Go away” and he hopped off the patio into the night-or so I thought. I got up in the morning, noticed the cooking tent flap was bent out of shape and looked in and the fricking hyena had broke into the tent, opened the fridge and helped himself to all of our meat, bacon, cheese, butter and worst of all-took my stick of salami! All he left was some eggs, half a bag of pork spare rib flavored potato chips and some crackers. Thank God he wasn’t a drinker as we were down to our last bottle of gin. We had one more steak in the freezer, which the hyena didn’t find so at least we had one more meal (for two more nights). There were teeth/claw marks on the fridge and he did break the fridge during his foray. The tourism assistant said there were no more refrigerators to replace ours. They are planning on putting wood/glass doors on the cooking tents in the near future.

 

Everyone had said that we’d see lions for sure at KTC but we didn’t see a single cat. I asked the tourism assistant if we should go into Namibia for a game drive and that maybe the lions had crossed the border (it happened once before…) but he said nothing is in Namibia. I wish we would have done it as four days driving the same patch of road was quite boring and I actually wished the trip was over sooner.

 

The second night here there were more noises coming from the cooking tent, I opened the door and said “There’s nothing left, you took it all last night!” Woke up in the morning and saw that he did come into the tent but left empty handed.

 

My opinion on Kalahari Tented Camp: Nice camp, comfortable and well equipped. To see the waterhole we’d have to go into the car park, stand on the garbage can and lean over the railing. If they had chopped down one more tree it would have been perfect but from our lack of view I don’t know if anything used the waterhole or not. I think KTC is too close to Urikaruus to make a big difference in game viewing as there is only one road between the camps. It’s the only area that has giraffe so that was cool, but other than that I liked Urikaruus better and would stay there longer and do the game drives up to KTC.

 

To Kieliekrankie: It was cold this morning, so we jumped in the truck, turned on the heater and went on a short game drive before moving on to the next camp. Didn’t see much of anything, including no giraffes. From Kalahari Tented Camp to Kieliekranie is 66 km and since we had plenty of time we drove into Twee Rivieren to get some meat and cheese for dinner. On the way there was a car stopped, so we stopped, asked them what they were looking at. “Cheetah and two cubs.” Once again if you squinted, closed one eye and used some imagination, I guess there were three cheetah out there but it was hard to tell for sure. Other than that there was NOTHING, not even a lone wildebeest.

 

Kieliekrankie is 7 km off the main road and up a hill and on top of a dune. Rounding a corner you see 4 rust colored blocks on top of the dune, the tents-quite stunning. This was probably the nicest of the wilderness camps, seemed more luxurious than the rest with a wall of glass windows looking out into the Kalahari as far as the eye could see. Beautiful scenery with a small waterhole at the bottom of the dune. Two beds, shower, toilet, kitchen with table, fully equipped kitchen and a nice sized deck over the dune. This was the most peaceful place I think I’ve ever been to-other than the laughing geckos there wasn’t a sound to be heard. At night, with the drapes open it seemed you could reach out and touch the stars, I’ve never seen so many stars in my life and the sunsets were fantastic from here. If you ever want to just get away and be surrounded by nothing but awesome desert, this is the place. Really, a place to contemplate life and realize how small we really are. Of all the camps, this is one I would return to if I ever wanted to escape life.

 

Since we were only here one night, and it was the last night in Kgalagadi, we went on an early sundowner game drive and stayed out until the posted time of 6:30 return. Drove over some new territory but only saw two gemsbok and a dik-dik in three hours. Both of the waterholes on this road were broken so there was no reason for any animal to be in this area of the park. I felt sorry for the gemsbok and dik-dik but they seemed to like it there. Went to the museum outlook, sat at the picnic tables and had our last sundowner g & t’s of the trip-this time without salami and crackers. Made a bar-b-q dinner, went to bed and watched the stars through the window.

 

My opinion on Kieliekrankie: Incredibly beautiful place, tranquil stark setting. I wish we had more nights at this camp, even without seeing any animals, just being in that place made up for it. If I ever were to return to Kgalagadi, I’d spend many more nights here and do drives from this camp. No matter what words I try to use to describe it, I’m not doing justice to Kieliekrankie camp.

 

Back to Upington: Checked out of Kieliekrankie and drove the 44 km to Twee Rivieren slowly, at first seeing nothing then Tom yelled out “Meerkats!” Out in the field were 7 of them, all standing up soaking up the morning sun. I was happy to see them as they were on my wish list, only wanting them to be closer. Farther on we saw a dik-dik and that was about it for the rest of the drive. Had breakfast at the restaurant here, checked out of the park and drove the 265 km to Upington.

 

Upington is a nice city-one of the fastest growing cities in South Africa. It’s situated next to the Orange River. We checked into our hotel, the Protea Upington Hotel. We were given a two bedroom suite which was nice. The hotel is next to one of my favorite restaurants “the Spur” so we had dinner there. The next day we returned the truck, checked in for our flight to JNB and after an hour and a half, the SAA agent at the airport managed to get us the boarding passes for our flight from JNB-Washington D.C.-San Francisco. She apologized profusely and said not many people check in at Upington for the U.S. Since we had to have the rental truck back by 8 and our flight wasn’t until 11:25, we had nothing to do but wait for her to work her magic with the boading passes.

 

Everything went well, got to JNB, shopped at Out of Africa and our SAA flight was on time. Slept most of the way home, customs in D.C. was smooth and arrived in San Francisco where we spent three nights visiting family.

 

My overall opinion on Kgalagadi: Kgalagadi is a beautiful place with awesome scenery and comfortable, well thought out tents. According to the map/pamphlet I bought at Tweee Rivieren, there are 450 lions, 150 leopard, 200 cheetah, 600 brown hyena and 375 spotted hyena but we hardly saw any of the above animals. I know from past safaris that nothing is guaranteed but it was very disappointing, especially the last six nights without seeing much of anything. I don’t think I’d go back, but if I did I’d only stay at Grootkolk and Kieliekrankie. There just aren’t enough roads in the southern part to justify staying at three different camps or to spend that much time in that area. I know that putting in more roads would destroy the delicate desert ecosystem, but for spending the amount of time we did in the park, I wish there were more options for game drives. I would recommend Kgalagadi if you want stunning scenery, peace and quiet and hopefully better cat viewing then we had, but if you get bored easily with scenery, peace and quiet and possible cat viewing, I wouldn’t recommend it. It all depends on what you’re looking for. The wilderness camps were great, not as exciting as I’d hoped, still too tame for what I thought they‘d be like-even with lions roaring in Grootkolk, hyena break-in at Kalahari Tented Camp and toe licking jackals at Nossob.

 

Aloha and mahalo for reading this somewhat boring trip report…wish I had more exciting adventures to write about, but for this trip it wasn’t meant to be. There’s always next time!

Dennis

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twaffle

Thank you Dennis for posting this report as well as all the pricing details. I had read it on Fodors but don't remember whether I had commented or not. Even without the spectacular wildlife sightings we all desire, it sounds so wonderfully peaceful to be driving around in the wilderness but I am sorry you didn't see more.

 

The first night there we heard a man yelling from one of the tents down the way and then I heard a noise on our patio. I opened the door, shined the flashlight into the eyes of the largest hyena I’ve ever seen. I said “Go away” and he hopped off the patio into the night-or so I thought.

 

I do think you could have said something more dramatic and alarmist than "go away"! :)

 

Have you another trip in planning stages? Everyone says go to Zimbabwe, so perhaps that should be your next safari.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Dennis. That Jackal episode is priceless too!

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Game Warden

Where are you planning to go next Dennis? Certainly you have done a lot of South Africa.

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matnikstym

Nothing planned this year. In discussions with a few facebook/fodorites about checking out Mozambique, but waiting for a reply from the previous mgr. of Luangwa River Lodge who lives in Moz. now about the animals in that park. If it's worth the trip, then Moz and Madagascar.

 

If not, would really like to go back to Hwange and add in Mana Pools and Matsudonna. I need to see elephants and hear hippos! Also Liuwa Plains in Zambia looks interesting, but being next to Angola, I might have bad luck again with all the animals going to Angola. There are a few lodges in Angola I've been looking at for fun...

 

Twaffle, have been to Vic Falls and Hwange in Zim. Would love to go back..my favorite everything from camp to guide was in Hwange. And I don't know what else to say to the hyena, he was scary and I was cold.

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madaboutcheetah

Dennis - I saw a Discovery channel program about 6 months ago, "last Lioness of Liuwa Plains" - apparently, most animals wiped out by poachers.

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matnikstym

Hari-I realized that there is not much there after posting that. There is a huge wildebeest migration in the green season and some roan and red lechwe but that is about it, so will pass on that!

Thanks for the heads up, hope you are well.

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Atravelynn

Your Angola experience will follow you everywhere. I was having flashbacks while reading, especially the parts about the gin. Thanks for the report.

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twaffle
A friend of mine is going to Liuwa in two weeks I will see what he can find out.

 

 

There is a report in the latest Travel Africa (or Africa Geographic - I forget) about Liuwa and the last lionness. Apparently they are trying organise a mate for her.

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