Kalahari is one of the most iconic deserts in the world, with many folklores and legends associated with it. A semi-arid savannah covering an area of more than 350,000 square miles, the Kalahari Desert is spread across much of Botswana, some regions of Namibia, and parts of South Africa. It is the second biggest desert in Africa after the Sahara Desert. The word “Kalahari” comes from the Tswana word, “Kgala”, meaning the great thirst and a waterless place. However, the Kalahari is not a desert in the strictness sense, as it does receive 5-10 inches of annual rainfall, but the water filters down rapidly through the sprawling expanse of sand, turning this place into a “thirstland”. The Kalahari has numerous salt pans, like the Makgadikgadi Pan of Botswana and Etosha Pan of Namibia. Towards the northwest, the Okavango river flows into a delta, forming marshes that are teeming with wildlife. The rainfall creates excellent grazing tracts throughout the desert, which is why the Kalahari supports more species of animals and plants than any other true desert. The western side of the Kalahari contains a long chain of dunes, each measuring at least 1 mile in length, hundreds of feet in width, and anywhere from 20 to 200 feet in height. Parallel depressions called straats (street) separate each dune from the other. The desert supports extreme temperatures, with summers being blisteringly hot (up to 45 degrees Celsius) and winters being very cold when temperatures reach below zero degrees Celsius at night. While Kalahari is a vast stretch of land spanning game reserves, cities and even the famous Okavango delta is part of the Kalahari ecosystem. Let us look at some of the more famous game reserves which are part of the Kalahari ecosystem.
The Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, or CKGR, spanning more than 20,400 square miles, is one of the best “remote” safari destinations and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world. Most of its area is inaccessible and receives only a handful of visitors each year, making it an ideal place for visitors looking for a private and peaceful experience. The reserve is home to a population of about 5000 of Africa’s last hunting Bushmen. Today, only a few of the local populations, called the “San people” survive exclusively by hunting and foraging; most have them have adopted modern life in towns. Two private and permanent camps inside the CKGR, namely, Kalahari Plains Camp and Tau Pan camp, have been operating here for several years. Three newer camps located just outside the reserve boundary- Deception Valley Lodge, Haina Kalahari Lodge, and Dinaka have become popular recently. The landscape surrounding the game reserve is mesmerizing. It is a mixture of pans and fossil riverways, patches of acacias, straggly bushes, and dunes. The reserve sees its peak season around January when herds come down from Northern Botswana for grazing. A huge variety of herbivores and carnivores reside in this game reserve.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
It is a large wildlife conservation area, located at the border between South Africa and Botswana. The terrain of Kgalagadi features red dunes, little vegetation, and some trees, mostly Camelthorn. Dry riverbeds of Nossob and Auob rivers, that are said to flow about once in a century, thread across the plain here. The park hosts abundant wildlife, with many herbivorous species, mammalian predators, and birds residing here. You can spot Black-mane lion, leopard, cheetah, and hyena here. The park has three traditional tourist lodges, called “rest camps”, and six wilderness camps for the more adventurous visitors.
Augrabies Falls National Park
The park takes its name after the Khoisan word, meaning “loud thunder”. The waterfalls located in the Northern Cape are massive and emerge from a height of 60 metres. There are various lookout points all over the waterfall. Various other activities, like water sports and hot air ballooning, are guaranteed to keep you busy. Wine connoisseurs are in for a treat as they can have a unique experience of wine-tasting against the backdrop of Orange River.
Flora and Fauna of Kalahari
The southwestern region, due to a lack of precipitation, supports only a few trees, shrubs, short grass, and hoodia cactus. These plant species have evolved to make use of the infrequent rainfall and varying temperatures of this area. The central region fares better and supports some grasses, bushes, and species of Acacia, known as Camelthorn Tree. This acacia species are endemic to the region and critical to the desert ecosystem, as it produces nutrients necessary for plant growth. Also, these trees provide much-needed shade to animals. The northern part of Kalahari doesn’t resemble a desert at all; there are open grasslands, palm trees, and forest filled with deciduous trees, as tall as 50 feet. The swamp area of Okavango supports dense foliage, with species like pond lilies, papyrus, reeds, and other water-dwelling plants.
The animal life of the Kalahari, particularly the southern region, is more suited to survive in arid conditions. These animals have adapted to go on several days without water and to obtain water from plants. Desert species like bat-eared fox, cape fox, meerkat, brown hyena, gemsbok (oryx), springbok, steenbok, kudu, and duiker. The wildlife of northern Kalahari is much more diverse and features animals like antelopes, giraffe, buffalo, elephants, predators like foxes, hunting dogs, jackals, warthogs, and hyenas. All the three African big cats- leopard, cheetah, and the famous black-maned lions find their home here. Medium-sized animals include badges, baboons, hare, ant bears, anteaters, and porcupines. Different types of rodents, snakes, and lizards also reside here. During the winter months, amphibians like the tremolo sand frog and bushveld rain frog can also be spotted. Birdlife of the Kalahari includes birds of prey like falcons, giant eagle owl, martial eagle, kites, kestrels, and goshawks. Ostrich, Kori Bustard, and secretary birds are also common here.
A safari in Botswana is synonymous with the Kalahari. We recommend visiting Central Kalahari Game Reserve or Kgalagadi Transfrontier park on any Botswana itinerary, along with the Okavango Delta and other famous parks like Moremi and Chobe. What you experience in the Kalahari is very different from the rest of Africa, it is not your traditional African safari park, wildlife is not abundant, the weather is not welcoming, the terrain is harsh, but in the end it leaves a sweet taste in your mouth and it is unlike anything else you will ever experience.
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