Kalahari Desert


The Kalahari Desert

The ‘Kalahari’ translates as the ‘dry place’ or the ‘waterless place’

Taken from the word ‘Kgala’ in the Tswana language, the ‘Kalahari’ translates as the ‘dry place’ or the ‘waterless place’. Of we know the Kalahari region receives enough rainfall for a to sustain plant life and some tree species and of course is home to amongst others the San bushmen who make up the Kalahari Desert population so the name can be a little misleading.

The Kalahari Desert stretches across several countries: Botswana, Zambia, the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).



The Kalahari Desert was formed millions and millions of years ago, over 60 million years to be more precise. Back then, the desert area was actually a shallow basin. What followed is unknown to us but there is a very common theory that the Okavango, the Kwando and Zambezi rivers all flowed through one single channel across the Kalahari. Seismic movements caused a ‘superlake’ which later dried out, leaving behind salt deposits which form a part of the desert we know today.

Unlike other deserts, the Kalahari sand dunes are not wandering dunes. They do not move but remain stationary so the shape of the landscape is permanent. This is a real contrast to the neighbouring Namib Desert where the contour of the sand dunes is known to shift with the wind.

The Kalahari Desert stretches 360,000 km² across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Although it’s named a ‘desert’, the reality is not strictly the case. Within this alien world of scorching heat and sand dunes is Southern Africa’s fourth longest river and gushing waterfalls. Each individual experience of the Kalahari will be as surreal as it is magical.

Fauna and Flora

There’s a huge list of animals that live in this semi-arid region spanning across parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Some of the animals that make up the Kalahari Desert population include lions, meerkats, giraffes, warthogs, jackals, baboons, antelope of all variations (eland, gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, kudu and hartebeest), various reptile species and more!

The desert is home to all three of Africa’s big cats. If you visit the Kalahari region you may see lions, leopards and cheetahs. Because of the region’s dry conditions, there’s an element of predictability in their movements as big game will tend to either gather at watering holes or hide under big trees for shade so this is a great location for game viewing opportunities. The Kalahari is also home to some of Africa’s rarely seen smaller cats like the caracal, African wild cat and black-footed cat.

The Kalahari is a great place for spotting different species of birds. Amongst the many species is the small Weaver Bird which can be seen forming huge nests, housing colonies of sociable weaver birds, these nests often completely dominate the large acacia trees or telegraph poles on which they are built.

Various raptors can be spotted such as the martial eagle, the brown snake eagle, black-breasted snake eagle and lappet-faced vulture. Numerous other birds and mammals utilise the desert, but most are migratory, venturing into the Kalahari only when adequate water is present. The most widespread species of dragonfly on the planet visits Namibia regularly inhabiting any waterway especially in the Kalahari.

Because the Kalahari’s sand and soil can retain water much better than most desert environments, plant life is rich, particularly in the North. In some parts of the desert, vegetation is seen to be dense and the core vegetation happens to be grasses, shrubs and some trees.

In order to survive in the scorching desert conditions, all plant life in the Kalahari has evolved to incorporate deep roots which can reach deep into the ground in order to absorb water.

This region is the only place which grows Hoodia. Hoodia is a plant which is used all around the world in diet pills and supplements because of its hunger-suppressing properties. This plant grows only in Southern Africa and the Kalahari Desert region and it is said that the San people can go 24 hours without feeling any hunger after consuming it. These claims have created great interest from Western culture, despite there being no scientific evidence to back this up.

San Bushmen

One of the better-known facts about the Kalahari Desert is that the San Bushmen is one of the oldest small settlements in the world and these people know the landscapes and the surrounding wildlife better than anyone else in Africa. The San people live in tribes and form one of the oldest cultures known to man; with tradition being at the core of their society. They live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the population of the San Bushmen is in excess of 90,000. As well as the Kalahari, these indigenous tribes also have territories in other parts of Southern Africa including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Angola.

They still retain some specific cultural and linguistic characteristics such as the very interesting and unique ‘click’ language, and listening to is a wonderful experience in itself. Five types of click sounds are known to exist, with a certain ‘sucking action of the tongue’ being responsible for the noise. Each has a different position of the tongue, and combined with the way the air is released, results in different sounds.



For anyone visiting the Kalahari, it’s important to understand the key seasons and check this Kalahari Desert information it’s just as important to pack appropriately for day and night. Whilst high temperatures can be scorching, cooler temperatures in the winter and at night can drop to below zero! In the summer, it’s not unlikely for the heat to be as high as 40°C or more. Sun cream and appropriate protective eye wear is essential all year round and travelers are always advised to bring layers.


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