Of camel thorns and black-maned lions
Wildlife of the Kalahari
The Kalahari Desert is a magical landscape of metallic skies, waves of windswept red sand dunes, sun-drenched grasslands, ancient riverbeds and bleached mineral-rich pans. The desert is also home to a huge variety of animal and plant life superbly adapted to the dry conditions.
Cheetahs - predators of the Kalahari.
© South African Tourism
Did you know?
Sociable weaver nests can measure 7 metres in length and weigh hundreds of kilograms.
With an average of 200mm of unpredictable annual rainfall, the Kalahari is a harsh environment. But, while the land might appear barren, it is home to a multitude of life, specially adapted to the desert conditions.
The Kalahari plants are the foundation of this ecosystem. They consist of perennial plants that provide food and shade for animals throughout the year, as well as annuals, which complete their lifecycle from germination to seeding inside a year. Many of these annuals are programmed to respond to the region’s sparse rainfall so that they germinate, flower, produce seeds and die within a month of a rainstorm, after which the seeds lie dormant in the soil until the next rains.
The most common tree in the Kalahari Desert is the Shepherd’s Tree. Its thickly-leafed branches provide welcome shade for the animals, birds and reptiles of the desert. The prince of desert trees, however, is the ubiquitous camel thorn.
The camel thorn's leaves and pods provide food for many species and its branches are prime nesting spots for eagles, roosts for owls and scaffolding for the massive communal nests of the sociable weaver. The 78 resident bird species of the region are supplemented by 200 migratory visitors, making the Kalahari a popular spot with birders.
Many visitors also come in search of the desert’s predators, with the prize being a sighting of the famous black-maned lion. Others Kalahari animals include the cheetah, leopard, hyena, caracal, yellow mongoose, bat-eared fox and even 3 species of frogs that spend most of the year in suspended animation beneath the pans.
Among the most evocative of desert wildlife is the regal gemsbok with its splendid, scimitar-like horns. Also common in the Kalahari are springbok, desert giraffe and meerkats, which are often seen surveying the landscape from their burrows.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
The Kalahari desert spans 3 countries. The South African portion of the Kalahari Desert is located in the Northern Cape province. One of the best places to access the desert is from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, 3 hours north of Upington.
Self-drive is best and though some roads in the Kalahari are tarred and fine for sedans, you may need a 4X4 if you plan to go off the beaten track.
Length of stay
The Kalahari deserves at least a week of your time.
What to pack
Sunscreen and a hat are vitally important. If you are driving yourself, make sure to carry plenty of water in the car along with some spare petrol - gas stations are few and far between.
Where to stay
There are several luxury game lodges in the Kalahari. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has a number of cheaper accommodation options, including self-catering chalets and campsites.