Riding through the fabled Kalahari Desert is part of the Waterfalls and Wildlife and Victoria Falls to Cape Town safaris. Here are some of the reasons why it’s a place like no other on earth.
- Technically, the Kalahari is not a desert because it receives too much rainfall – between 12.7 and 25.4 cm (5 and 10 in) annually. Even so, its name means “a waterless place” and the first European settlers referred to it as a “thirstland”.
- The desert covers approximately 900,000 km2 (362,500 mi2) encompassing most of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. It’s part of the 2,408,276 km2 (970,000 mi2) Kalahari Basin, which encompasses virtually all of Botswana and more than half of Namibia and includes the Okavango Delta.
- The Kalahari sand dunes are the largest continuous expanse of sand on earth. Unlike other deserts, the dunes of the Kalahari do not wander.
- Life in the desert has had to adapt to wild temperature fluctuations. In the summer, heat can exceed 45C/115F; temperatures on winter nights can dip to -15C/7F.
- The San people, a diverse collection of hunter-gathers, have lived in this desert for more than 20,000 years. Their nomadic way of life has changed dramatically since Europeans arrived but about 100,000 still live along the fringes of the Kalahari.
- The Taa language, spoken by less than 5,000 people in the Kalahari Desert is the language with the most vowels and consonants.
- The greatest threat to this ecosystem is livestock grazing as it changes the plant communities and leads to erosion.
- The Kalahari contains deposits of diamonds, nickel, copper, and coal. The soil is said to be oxidizing because of the high metal content, attributing to the sand’s red color.
- Large salt pans are all that remain of the many lakes which thrived here thousands of years ago.
- Birds, animals, and reptiles found here are either endemic, having evolved to live for long periods without water or obtain water from plants, or are migratory, passing through only when there is adequate moisture.
- More than 400 plant species call the Kalahari home, most of which are grasses and acacias. Shrubs provide the perfect ambush cover for the large cats like lions, cheetah, and leopards to get within sprinting distance of prey like springbok.
- The most widespread species of dragonfly on the planet visits regularly, borne on rain-bearing winds.
Next time you traverse this vast desert garden, keep an eye out. You never know what you might see!
photo credit: namibia via photopin (license)