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Kalahari Desert

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Title: Kalahari Desert  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Namibia, Wildlife of Botswana, Geography of Namibia, Botswana, Kalahari Desert
Collection: Botswana–namibia Relations, Deserts of Botswana, Deserts of Namibia, Deserts of South Africa, Ergs, Kalahari Desert
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Kalahari Desert

A satellite image of the Kalahari by NASA World Wind
Countries Botswana, Namibia, South Africa
Landmarks Botswana's Gemsbok National Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Chobe National Park, Kalahari Basin, Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Makgadikgadi Pans
River Orange River
Highest point Brandberg Mountain 8,550 ft (2,610 m)
 - coordinates
Length 4,000 km (2,485 mi), E/W
Area 930,000 km2 (359,075 sq mi)
Biome Desert
The Kalahari Desert (shown in maroon) & Kalahari Basin (orange)
Kalahari in Namibia

The Kalahari Desert (in Afrikaans Kalahari-woestyn) is a large semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa extending , covering much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. A semi-desert, with huge tracts of excellent grazing after good rains, the Kalahari supports more animals and plants than a true desert, such as the Namib Desert to the west. There are small amounts of rainfall and the summer temperature is very high. The driest areas usually receive of rain per year,[1] and the wettest just a little over 500 millimetres (20 in). The surrounding Kalahari Basin covers over 2,500,000 square kilometres (970,000 sq mi) extending farther into Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, and encroaching into parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Kalahari is home to many migratory birds and animals. Previously havens for wild animals from elephants to giraffes, and for predators such as lions and cheetahs, the riverbeds are now mostly grazing spots, though leopards and cheetahs can still be found. The area is now heavily grazed and cattle fences restrict the movement of wildlife. Among deserts of the southern hemisphere, the Kalahari most closely resembles some Australian deserts in its latitude and its mode of formation.


  • Description 1
  • Flora 2
  • Climate 3
  • Fauna 4
  • Threats and preservation 5
  • Population 6
  • Kalahari, San and diamonds 7
  • Settlements within the Kalahari 8
  • In popular culture 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning "the great thirst", or Kgalagadi, meaning "a waterless place",[1] the Kalahari has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent surface water. Drainage is by dry valleys, seasonally inundated pans, and the large salt pans of the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana and Etosha Pan in Namibia. The only permanent river, the Okavango, flows into a delta in the northwest, forming marshes that are rich in wildlife. Ancient dry riverbeds—called omuramba—traverse the Central Northern reaches of the Kalahari and provide standing pools of water during the rainy season.


Despite its aridity, the Kalahari supports a variety of flora. The native flora includes acacia trees and many other herbs and grasses.[2] The Kiwano fruit, also known as the Horned melon, melano, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, or hedged gourd, is endemic to a region in the Kalahari Desert (specific region unknown).[3]

Even where the Kalahari "desert" is dry enough to qualify as a desert in the sense of having low precipitation, it is not strictly speaking a desert because it has too dense a ground cover, often close to 100%. The main region that lacks ground cover is in the southwest Kalahari (southeast of Namibia and northwest of South Africa around the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park).

In an area of about 600,000 km² in the south and west of the Kalahari, the vegetation is mainly xeric savanna. This area is the ecoregion identified by World Wide Fund for Nature as Kalahari xeric savanna AT1309. Typical savanna grasses include (Schmidtias, Stipagrostis, Aristida, and Eragrostis) interspersed with trees such as camelthorn (Acacia erioloba), grey camelthorn (Acacia haematoxylon), shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca), blackthorn (Acacia mellifera), and silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea).

In certain areas where the climate is drier, it becomes a true semi-desert with ground not entirely covered by vegetation, an "open" vegetation as opposed to "closed" vegetation. Examples include the north of the Siyanda District, itself in the north of South Africa, and the Keetmanshoop Rural in the south-east of Namibia. In the north and east, there are dry forests covering an area of over 300,000 km² in which Rhodesian teak and several species of Acacia are prominent. These regions are termed Kalahari Acacia-Baikiaea woodlands AT0709.[4]

Outside the Kalahari "desert", but still in the Kalahari basin, a halophytic vegetation to the north is adapted to pans, lakes that are completely dry during the dry season, and maybe for years during droughts, such as in Etosha (Etosha Pan halophytics AT0902) and Makgadikgadi (Zambezian halophytics AT0908).[4]

A totally different vegetation is adapted to the perennial fresh water of the Okavango Delta, an ecoregion termed (Zambezian flooded grasslands AT0907).[4]


North and east, approximately where the dry forests, savannahs and salt lakes prevail, the climate is sub-humid rather than semi-arid. South and west, where the vegetation is predominantly xeric savanna or even a semi-desert, the climate is "Kalaharian" semi-arid. The Kalaharian climate is subtropical (average annual temperature greater than or equal to 18 °C, with mean monthly temperature of the coldest month strictly below 18 °C), and is semi-arid with the dry season during the "cold" season, the coldest six months of the year. It is the southern tropical equivalent of the Sahelian climate. The altitude has been adduced as the explanation why the Kalaharian climate is not tropical; its altitude ranges from 600 to 1600 meters (and generally from 800 to 1200 meters), resulting in a cooler climate than that of the Sahel or Sahara. For example, winter frost is common from June to August, something rarely seen in the warmer Sahelian regions.[5] For the same reason, summer temperatures certainly can be very hot, but not in comparison to regions of low altitude in the Sahel or Sahara, where some stations record average temperatures of the warmest month around 38°C, whereas the average temperature of the warmest month in any region in the Kalahari never exceeds 29°C, though daily temperatures occasionally reach up to close to 45 °C (113 °F) (44.8°C at Twee Rivieren in 2012)[6].

As in the Sahel, the wet season in the Kalahari is during the 6 hottest months of the year.

The dry season lasts 8 months or more, and the wet season typically from less than one month to four months, depending on location. The southwestern Kalahari is the driest area, in particular a small region located towards the west-southwest of Tsaraxaibis (Southeast of Namibia)). The average annual rainfall ranging from around 110 mm (close to aridity) to more than 500 mm in some areas of the north and east. In the driest and sunniest parts of the Kalahari, over 4,000 hours of sunshine are recorded annually on average.

In the Kalahari, there are two main mechanisms of atmospheric circulation:[7]

  • The North and North-west of the Kalahari lies in the "Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) / "Continental trade winds", which generates rains in the wet season, whereas the continental trade winds cause the dry season;
  • The rest of the Kalahari is subject to the maritime trade winds, that largely shed their moisture as they cross up and over the Southern African Great Escarpment before arriving over the Kalahari.

There are huge subterranean water reserves beneath parts of the Kalahari; the Dragon's Breath Cave for example is the largest documented non-subglacial underground lake on the planet. Such reserves may be in part the residues of ancient lakes; the Kalahari Desert was once a much wetter place. The ancient Lake Makgadikgadi dominated the area, covering the Makgadikgadi Pan and surrounding areas, but it drained or dried out some 10,000 years ago. It may have once covered as much as 275,000 square kilometres (106,000 sq mi).


Although there are few endemic species, a wide variety of animals are found in the Kalahari including large predators such as the Kalahari lion, cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), leopard (Panthera pardus), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), and wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Birds of prey include the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) and other eagles, the giant eagle owl (Bubo lacteus) and other owls, falcons, goshawks, kestrels, and kites. Other animals include wildebeest, springbok and other antelopes, porcupines (Hystrix africaeaustralis) and ostriches. [8]

Some of the areas within the Kalahari are seasonal wetlands, such as the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana. This area, for example, supports numerous halophilic species, and in the rainy season, tens of thousands of flamingos visit these pans.[9]

Threats and preservation

A meerkat in the Kalahari
The endangered African Wild Dog in CKGR

The Kalahari has a number of game reserves—Tswalu Kalahari, Southern Africa's largest private game reserve, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (the world's second largest protected area), Khutse Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Animals that live in the region include brown hyenas, the Kalahari lion, meerkats, giraffes, common warthogs, jackals, chacma baboons, and several species of antelope (including the eland, gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, steenbok, kudu, and duiker), and many species of birds and reptiles. Camel rides flourish when it rains.

The biggest threat to wildlife are the fences erected to manage herds of grazing cattle, a practice which also removes the plant cover of the savanna itself. Cattle ranchers will also poison or hunt down predators from the rangeland, particularly targeting jackals and wild dogs.


The San people have lived in the Kalahari for 20,000 years as hunter-gatherers.[10] They hunt wild game with bows and poison arrows and gather edible plants, such as berries, melons and nuts, as well as insects. The San get most of their water requirements from plant roots and desert melons found on or under the desert floor. They often store water in the blown-out shells of ostrich eggs. The San live in huts built from local materials—the frame is made of branches, and the roof is thatched with long grass. The Bantu-speaking Tswana, Kgalagadi, and Herero and a small number of European settlers also live in the Kalahari desert. The city Windhoek is situated in the Kalahari Basin.

Kalahari, San and diamonds

In 1996, DeBeers evaluated the potential of diamond mining at Gope. In 1997, the eviction of the San and Bakgalagadi tribes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve from their land began.[11] In 2006, a Botswana High Court ruled in favor of the San and Bakgalagadi tribes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, claiming their eviction from the reserve was unlawful. The Government of Botswana granted a permit to De Beers' Gem Diamonds/Gope Exploration Company (Pty) Ltd. to conduct mining activities within the reserve.[12]

Settlements within the Kalahari



South Africa

In popular culture


  1. ^ a b Mary Sadler-Altena, "Kalahari: Introduction" webpage: SouthernCape-Kalahari: Kalahari name/climate/reserves and history
  2. ^ Plants of the KalahariMartin Leipold,
  3. ^ Kiwano FruitWikiHow, '
  4. ^ a b c [1]
  5. ^ (French) Les milieux désertiques Jean Demangeot Edmond Bernus, 2001 Editor: Armand Colin EAN: 9782200251970, page 20 in particular
  6. ^
  7. ^ (French) Tropicalité Jean Demangeot Géographie physique intertropicale, pages 44–45, Figure 19, source : Leroux 1989
  8. ^
  9. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) , Megalithic Portal, ed. A.BurnhamMakgadikgadi
  10. ^ Marshall, Leon (16 April 2003), "Bushmen Driven From Ancestral Lands in Botswana", National Geographic News (Johannesburg), retrieved 2009-04-22 
  11. ^ Workman, James (2009). Heart of Dryness. Walker Publishing. p. 323. 
  12. ^ "UN report condemns Botswana's treatment of Bushmen". Survival for Tribal Peoples. 3 March 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  13. ^ The Lost World of the Kalahari" (1956)""".  

Further reading

  • Main, Michael (1987). Kalahari : life's variety in dune and delta.  

External links

  • "Cry of the Kalahari"
  • Kalahari desert's forgotten influence on carbon levels

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