The Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa is a vast sand basin covering over three quarters of Botswana’s land area, as well as parts of neighbouring Namibia and South Africa. The Kalahari Basin extends from the Orange River to Angola reaching from Namibia to Zimbabwe, over an area of 900,000 sq km (350,000 sq mi).
The Kalahari Desert, formed over 60 million years ago comprises the entire western and central regions of Botswana forming one of the largest semi-desert areas in the world. The Okavango River flows through the Kalahari forming the marshy delta of northwest Botswana famous for its rich variety of wildlife.
The Kalahari Desert is the ultimate getaway for those in search of raw African beauty and remote, open landscapes with its vast semi-desert terrain.
Survival in the harsh conditions of the Kalahari with its low rainfall and sandy soil, is a precarious balancing act for the vegetation and wildlife in the area. Grasses, thorny shrubs and Acacia trees can however survive long periods of drought and after good rains tracts of excellent grazing can be found in this semi-desert area. Various animal and plant species can be found in the Kalahari Desert as the area does receive unpredictable rainfall and is by a large not true desert.
The name Kalahari derives from the Tswana word “Kgalagadi”, which means “the great thirst”. The Kalahari is well known for the San Bushmen people who have inhabited the area for around 20,000 thousands years, surviving as nomadic hunter-gatherers. The Khoi and the San people are renowned for their rock paintings, tools and pottery, to be found in the Tsodilo hills and the Lepokole hills as well as rocky parts of the Kalahari. Only small populations of the San people remain in the Kalahari area following their traditional life-styles as hunter-gatherers.
The surrounding Kalahari Basin covers an extensive hollow basin area of over 2,500,000 sq km (970,000 sq mi) spreading into several Southern African countries including Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Kalahari is home to three of the most remote game reserves in Africa, namely the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), Khutse Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park, now part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve:
Central Kalahari Game Reserve, established in 1961, covers 52,800 sq km of harsh and dramatic terrain, making this the second largest game reserve in the world. This vast and largely inaccessible area is mostly flat, with gently undulating dunes and holds the fascinating history of geological change in the area.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is home to wildlife species such as cheetah, brown hyena, warthog, wild dog, leopard and lion. Other species include several kinds of antelope, such as blue wildebeest, eland, springbok, gemsbok, kudu and duiker, as well as giraffe and red hartebeest. This Botswana game reserve also hosts various bird species, reptiles and over 400 identified plant species, including wild watermelon.
The stark white saltpans of Botswana’s interior once formed part of the ancient lake of Makgadikgadi. Today these bleached sands under baobab trees form one of the wonders of Botswana, offering travellers an unforgettable remote experience under open African skies.
In certain parts of the wilderness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve large numbers of game can be seen migrating, particularly in the wet season from February to April. In the early months of the year the rains attract thousands of springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest along with lions and cheetah to Deception Valley and the nearby saltpans.
This virtually untouched area makes for an awe-inspiring and dramatic African safari experience with its wide empty spaces and majestic African landscapes.
Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park:
Gemsbok National Park, now the expanded Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park, is situated in the dry south west of Botswana crossing into South Africa. The trans-frontier reserve covers an area of 32,000 sq km and is famous for its black maned lions and barking geckos. The Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park is inhabited by numerous raptor species with about 50 listed and was named after the gemsbok, best sighted between March and May.
Khutse Game Reserve
This reserve lies south of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, covering only 2,590 km – a small reserve by Kalahari standards. The Khutse reserve is a mere 240 km from Gaborone, the closest reserve to Botswana’s capital city.
The terrain consists mostly of a series of calcrete pans surrounded by undulating savannah hills. Wildlife species congregate at the pans in the wet season when water gathers in these hollows, making for rich game viewing opportunities. Herds of antelope can be sighted including springbok, gemsbok and eland. Other wildlife includes ostriches and giraffe as well as predators such as black maned lions.