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Kalahari Desert: The immensity Of Land And Its mysthic Landscapes

Elephant in Kgalagadi Park- Kalahari desert
Elephant in Kgalagadi Park- Kalahari desert

The immensity of the Kalahari Desert…An amazing place to visit

The sandy Kalahari Desert situated in the southern part of Africa is a vast semi-arid to arid savanna covering 900,000 sq km, almost all of Botswana area, region of South Africa and some parts of Namibia. It is the sixth-largest deserts by land and the second-largest in Africa after the Sahara. The word Kalahari derived from Kgalagadi, which means “a waterless place” or Tswana which means “the great thirst.” It is known for its red sand, longitudinal dunes, dry valley, and the pans.

The Kalahari Desert stretches over seven countries namely, Botswana, the Republic of South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


The Kalahari Desert is a portion of the plateau and a desert. Since its not a real desert, it can support some plants and animals. During summer the temperature is very high and receives 110-200 millimeters of rainfall in the driest areas and 500 millimeters in the wettest areas per year. After the right amount of rain in the desert, it can support more plants and animals than the Namib Desert is located in the west.

Kalahari Depression or Kalahari Basin is a large lowland area situated in the Windhoek covering over 2.5 million km. It has an outstanding physical feature which is the vast Kalahari Desert occupying the center. The Okavango, which is the only permanent river in the Kalahari Desert, flows from the northwest into a delta forming marshes which are rich in wildlife.

During the rainy season, ancient dry riverbeds called omuramba travel across the Central Northern and reach Kalahari providing standing pools of water. Some regions can be appreciated as it dominates a large part of Botswana and some parts of Namibia and South Africa.

It bestrides the tropic of Capricorn, and it would be expected to have a predominantly tropical climate. Probably as most of it is at an altitude of around 1000m above sea level, its atmosphere is much more conducive to plants and animals life. It is known as a semi-arid region.

Soils in the Kalahari Desert based mainly on the sand and are reddish and low in organic material. Chemically, they are alkaline and are extremely dry. Near the pans, the soil tends to be highly calcareous or saline and is toxic to most vegetation.

The Kalahari also has a numeral game reserve; following are the protected areas established in the Kalahari:

  • The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) which is the world’s second-largest protected area.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  • The Khutse Game Reserve

Inhabitants of Kalahari

The Kalahari Desert had a population of Bushmen which had lived as hunters and gatherers for over 20,000 years. The Bushmen who knew as Basara, Khwe, or San is proud people and is eager to display their origin and share the knowledge of their living. They use a complex language characterized by using click sounds. They did not have an individual name, so they referred to themselves as! Kung and ju/’hoansi(the punctuation represents different clicks).

The term San was referred to the Bushmen by their ethnic relatives and rivals, the Khoikhoi and has become favorable in official contexts in South Africa. Bushmen were skilled in drawings and had rich folklore and were famous for their cave paintings.

According to the African DNA test, it was revealed to have the highest genetic diversity in the San, denoting them as the oldest human population on the continent, and also on Earth.

The San people managed to survive by hunting wild animals using pre-historic tribe’s techniques like poisoning arrows and bows and also by gathering edible plants such as melons, berries, and nuts, as well as insects. After the successful hunting, the women welcome them by singing using different beats, while the men celebrate by dancing.The women were usually gatherers; they use a sling, cloak called a kaross and blanket to carry foodstuffs, young children, firewoods, digging sticks, etc. They collect water from plant roots, and desert melons and store them in the blown-out shells of an ostrich egg.

Bushmen have many songs and stories to tell. They had written songs about hunting and also had narrated many stories to the world, making them aware. A long time ago, Bushmen roamed around mountains and mastered the ways of nature. They live in the huts which were built using local materials like branches, long grass, and other local materials. They were nomads and migrated from time to time when the animals migrated, leaving no roads or houses to mark their presence.They left behind the story of the sacred animals, and they painted their journey in the rock. They believed that the mountains sheltered them, and the herds of Antelope gave them sustenance.

Today, many sans has adopted their lifestyles in towns; However, around 100,000 population of this ethnic group still live along the border of the Kalahari. In 2016, the Basara had given the right to live inside Central Kalahari Game Reserve.


The climate in Kalahari is usually subtropical and is semi-arid during the cold season. The area has both dry and wet season. Kalahari receives small amounts of rainfall annually, and the summer temperature is very high. It usually receives 5 to 10 inches of rain per year.The North and East area receives much more rainfall, and climatically it cannot be qualified as a desert. During the summer, there are heavy thunderstorms and rains in all regions with an average varying from 110 mm to 500 mm. 4000 hours of sunshine annually are recorded on an average.Over the past million years, the Kalahari had a complex climate history. It does not have a distinctive characteristic of summer, winter autumn, or spring.

Animals in the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari was a home for many animals and migratory birds. Earlier it was a sheltered place for animals like giraffe, elephants, lion, and cheetah but now it becomes a grazing spot. The area restricts movements of wildlife and is now largely grazed.Due to its mode of formation and its latitude, the Kalahari closely resembles deserts in Southern Hemisphere. Back around Sixty million years during the emergence of the continent, i.e. Africa, the Kalahari Desert had also formed along.

In the Kalahari Desert, the animals from the North were more varied than the South, but several species from the arid South survived for an extended period despite lack of water surface. Some of the species that originated in this region are, predators like lion, cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena, South African wild dog and brown hyena. Raptors include secretary bird, the giant owl, martial eagle, and other eagles, and owls such as goshawks, kites, kestrels and falcons.

Wetland areas such as Makgadikgadi pans (a salt pan) of Botswana supports various halophilic group, and during the rainy weather, approximately ten thousands flamingos visit the pan every year. One of the biggest threats to wildlife during that time was the cattle ranchers who hunt down or poison predators attacking particularly wild dogs and jackals from the rangeland. In today’s world, due to various farming techniques, many areas have been converted to the grazing of livestock, causing harm to many of the indigenous species. Species like African Wild Dog were hunted every day, believing it as a threat to the domesticated animal.

The grazing area also supports many grazing species such as Springbok, Wildebeest, Gemsbok and few other species of Antelope along with some predators such a Lions, Cheetah, Leopard, jackals and Hyenas. There existed many reptiles too such as Cobras, Rock Monitors and Puff Adders and also typical African birds such as Secretary Birds and Weaver Birds. Many animals were migratory spending a few months of each year, especially in the case of birds.

The Springbok, Kgalagadi Park- Kalahari desert
The Springbok, Kgalagadi Park- Kalahari desert

Plants in the Kalahari Desert

Kalahari supports numerous flora due to its low acidity. Kalahari is mainly a waterless place where only a few plants which can cope with the long months of drought and dry soil conditions can survive. Surprising most of this covered with vegetation but due to the existence of deep sand covering most of the area affects vegetation grown there.

In the southwestern Kalahari Desert, the precipitation is very low and has only a few trees or large bushes and some scattered shrubs and short grasses. The rain falls more in central Kalahari scattering trees (several species of Acacia) and some grasses and shrub. The northern Kalahari does not look like a desert at all. It has both deciduous and evergreen trees that grow up to heights of 50 feet and produce some species suitable for timber. The most unusual and the largest of these trees is the baobab.

In the North and West region where the areas are wetter open woodlands are found Camelthorn trees, a species of Acacia especially. It covers half of the part is with smaller clumps and shrubs, or tussocks, of grasses. During the rainfall, fast-growing plants come back to life, especially in the areas where the river beds are dry, including edible plants such as melons and cucumber. There are around four hundred species of plants identified in The Kalahari Desert, including the wild watermelon, also known as Tsamma melon.

In the South and West region, the areas are drier, and the vegetation is mostly scattered, and here species like Hoodia cactus are found. The Okavango Swamp holds a dense growth of pond lilies, papyrus, reeds, and other water-loving plants.

Kalahari Desert Circles:

 The visitors are surprised by the unusual appearance of the landscape, especially in the west of the region where completely barren circles of dry sand scatter massive areas of vegetation. The plants surrounded by these circles seem to flourish, giving the whole area a lunar appearance. The circles differ in size but are usually between two to fifteen meters in diameter. The fact is not exclusive to this region but found is found in the Namib desert and some areas in Australia.

Finding water in the Kalahari Desert

Bushman did not become dependent on waterholes; his forebears have had thousands of years to adapt the Kalahari. They need very little liquid to survive, and they know where to find it. An insignificant-looking dry twig tells them where to dig. Anyone else will die of thirst in the few days in this treacherous dessert that doesn’t look like a desert, but the bushman could survive for months.

They unearthed the bulbous root, which is just a solid lump of wood with dense fibers that are merely damp. They scraper a thin stick and split it to make it a pointed edge and dry-looking cut and takes a handful poured with a thumb on the mouth, squeeze very hard and wait for the drop of water. Civilized man would need some pretty complicated technology and machinery to get water out of it, but they used the simplest of tools.

Natural Resources found in the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is rich in natural resources such as diamonds, nickel, copper, and coal, although most of these are undeveloped.The colossal plateau has been the subject matter of geological surveys due to its natural and genuinely wild place. The place surprisingly has an underground feature, that being a large amount of subterranean water.The porous surface of the sandy soil allows the rainfall to pass through the strata and collect underground rather than re-circulating back into the atmosphere by evaporation or transpiration.Dragon Breath cave is located 29 miles away in the northwest of Grootfontein in Namibia is known to be the giant underground cavern. It is the world’s largest non-sub-glacial underground lake.

The controversy of Diamonds in Kalahari

In 1996, De beers evaluated the possibilities of diamond mining in Gope. Around thirty years ago diamonds were discovered in Botswana’s in The Kalahari Desert due to which the bushmen got evicted. The Bushman who lived in Central Kalahari Game reserve in Botswana the right to remain in perpetuity. Later the government, instead of protecting them determined to separate their way of life due to incomes generated from the place. Botswana’s government denied several times that diamonds were not the main reason for the eviction of the Bushmans, but it was to protect the wildlife.

In 2002 the President of Botswana, Festus Mogae said that there is no actual mining or plans for future drilling in the Reserve. In 2004 the government of Botswana claimed that there are no plans to mine inside the Reserve. Former and current British legislature and ministers also denied that the evictions were not due to the discovery of diamonds. But in 2014, it was reported by the Ecologist that $4.9 billion Ghaghoo diamond mine opened on the homeland of the Bushman in the Central Kalahari Game reserve (CKGR).

It was a shred of clear evidence for the Bushmen that the eviction was for diamond mining. And despite its denials, it appears that evicting and mining plan has been the policy of government ever since.

Places to visit in Kalahari

The southern Kalahari Desert is known for its boundless beauty, etched in the dunes and bare rocks, its olden traditions, and fascinating Wildlife. Taking a journey here will get to view the beautiful landscape and different culture like any other.

  • Central Kalahari Game reserve: The remote and rocky Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which lies in the heart of Botswana, is the second-largest protected desert in the world. The terrain consists of flat, dunes scattered with fossilized river valleys, open grasslands, and salt pans. The Central Kalahari is the home of the San people and the Bushmans with high populations of predators as well.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park:The area is significant archaeological attention and has provided many remnants during the Stone Age. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park formed by merging two parks, Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and the National Park in South Africa forming and expansive 3.6 million hectare wildlife reserves.

A vast portion of the park lies within the Kalahari Desert with red sandy dunes features and sparse vegetation. Wildlife spotted on the Kalahari Safari is the black-maned Kalahari lion, spotted hyena, wild dog, blue wildebeest, eland, red hartebeest, duiker, and steenbok.

  • Green Kalahari :The Green Kalahari located in the arid Northern Cape in South Africa. Tswalu Reserve is situated in the Green Kalahari and has flight access from both Cape Town and Johannesburg, together with an immersive safari experience.
  • Fish River Canyon: The Fish River Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world. It gets to experience the beautiful sunset over the Tswalu reserve, and also there are plenty across, but it is quite far from the barren Kalahari Desert.
  • Other activities:The tourist can experience a desert safari. It has numerous activities to do such as taking a nature walk in the bush, traveling by 4X4, riding a horse into the savannah, meeting exciting animals, relaxing at night with a lamp-lit and gazing at the stars.

Facts of Kalahari Desert

  • The temperature has wide variations, with summer being scorching while winter been freezing. During winter it can go below zero degrees Celsius in the night due to its high altitude and clear, dry air.
  • The Kalahari Desert has a massive continuous stretch of sand on Earth with dunes extending westward where it meets the Namib Desert.
  • The Kalahari Desert described as Savannah as most of the desert covers covered with vegetations.
  • The Okavango is the one and only permanent river in The Kalahari Desert, but during the rainy season, other watercourses and lakes formed temporarily.
  • The Kalahari Desert covers an area of 360,000 square miles which is roughly four times the size of the UK.
  • The Kalahari Desert is the sixth biggest desert by area on Earth, and it’s the second-largest in Africa after the Sahara.
  • Although it is called as ‘desert,’ in the strict sense, Kalahari Desert is not a desert as it receives too many rainfalls between 5 to 10 inches annually.
  • One of the rarest languages TAA, which is spoken by only less than 5000 people in the world came from the Kalahari Region.
  • The Kalahari Desert produces one of the biggest diamond mines in the world. In 2015 on Valentine’s Day, it sold the first diamond found in the mine.
  • Kalahari is one of the best places for spotting different species of birds. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the best place to start with for the bird lovers.
  • Meerkat Manor, the famous 2005 wildlife series produced by Oxford Scientific Films for Animal Planet, was filmed in Kalahari.
  • Africa’s big cats and rarely seen small cats like caracal, black-footed cat, and African wild cat were found in the Kalahari.
  • It is the only region which produces a plant called Hoodia, used in diet pills and other supplements as it contains hunger-Suppressing properties.
  • The Kalahari receives more torrential rainfall than other deserts. There are over 500 species of plants and shrubs particularly thriven from the higher level of precipitation.
  • Plants life has adapted to survive in the desert as the sand and soil can retain water much better than other deserts.
  • Explorer Guillermo Farini believes the Kalahari Desert to be a lost city from ancient times.
  • Maun is a popular access point to reach Kalahari Desert.


For most people, the word desert views as vast expanses of dry sand with less human and animal population, with little or no vegetation. However, the Kalahari Desert has none of these features, and it is still debating as to whether it can be called a desert. In the strict sense, the definition of a desert includes an annual precipitation of at least 25 cm. Even though some region of the Kalahari, receives more rainfall, it occurs only during the coldest part of the year.

Overall, the Kalahari Desert is an exciting desert to explore where it gets to meet various wild animals and different species. Although in the areas of Namibia which is covered by the Kalahari has no national park, there are severally guest farms and lodges, allowing the visitors to explore the desert area.

You may also read : Kalahari :Miracle of the Underway in Botswana – Animals Flood in for Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Show

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