24 Interesting Facts About the Kalahari

The Kalahari Desert stretches 360,000 square miles across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and although it’s named a ‘desert’, the reality is not strictly the case; within this alien world of scorching heat and sand dunes intertwined with dense vegetation, Southern Africa’s fourth longest river and gushing waterfalls, every man’s travel experience to the Kalahari will be as surreal as it is magical.

From Botswana, we offer explorative trips to the Kalahari Desert, including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve which is the world’s second largest reserve, covering a vast 52,800 km²; game viewing at this reserve can seem challenging but there is no other safari destination quite as wild as this. If you are thinking of visiting Botswana, Namibia or South Africa of your next safari holiday, here are 24 fun and interesting facts that you probably didn’t know about the Kalahari…

The Okavango River Runs Through the Kalahari

Strictly speaking, the Kalahari Desert is not a completely arid landscape. The Okavango River flows through the land, running for almost 1,000 miles in length starting from Angola (where it is known as the Cubango River) and draining into the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana. Before the river runs into Botswana, the water drops dramatically for 4 metres and creates a series of rapids, the Popa Falls in Namibia. The Okavango is the fourth longest river in Southern Africa and the Okavango Delta in Botswana also forms the world’s largest inland river delta.

The Kalahari Receives Higher Rainfall than Other Deserts

With somewhere between 5 and 10 inches of rainfall every single year, the Kalahari isn’t a ‘desert’ in the strictest sense of the word. There are almost 500 species of plants and shrubs that particularly thrive from this higher level of rainfall.

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Plant Life Has Adapted to Surviving in the Desert

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 also. 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.

The Rare Taa Language Comes from the Kalahari Region

This rare language is spoken by less than 5,000 people in the world. Most speakers of this unique Khoisan language currently live in Botswana and the roots of this native tongue arise in the Kalahari. Other than being a rare language unknown to the rest of the world, Taa is also notable for having more vowels and consonants than any other language spoken. There are a number of dialects with the Taa language as well as other close-linking languages within the wider Tuu language family to suggest that the language has roots from East to West.

The Kalahari Dunes are Not Wandering

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 are known to shift with the wind.

The ‘Kalahari’ Translates as ‘Dry Place’

Taken from the word ‘Kgala’ in the Tswana language, the ‘Kalahari’ translates as the ‘dry place’ or the ‘waterless place’ Of course, unlike other deserts, the Kalahari region receives enough rainfall for a fair amount of vegetation so this isn’t strictly true and when translated, the name isn’t so accurate.

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It Has One of the Biggest Diamond Mines in the World

The Kalahari Desert is home to one of the biggest diamond mines in the world. Diamonds were discovered around 30 years ago in the Kalahari and the Gaghoo Mine first opened in 2014, after a 3-year construction project. This mine extracts diamond ore using a GO25 Kimberlite Pipe and has a production capacity of 720,000t a year. The first diamonds found in this mine went on sale on Valentine’s Day in 2015 – although there was much controversy at the time due to the local bushmen facing illegal eviction from the diamond mining industry.

The Kalahari is Also Rich in Nickel, Copper and Coal

Not only can diamonds be found in the Kalahari, but this semi-arid desert is also rich in other valuable minerals such as nickel, copper and coal. There are various mining / extraction projects in place and there are a number of management strategies in place to prevent negative impacts to the natural environment.

The Weather and Climate Can be Extreme in the Kalahari  

For anyone visiting the Kalahari, it’s important to understand the key seasons and it’s just as important to pack appropriately for day and night. Whilst high temperatures can be scorching, cooler temperatures in the winter / 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 eyewear is essential all year round and travellers are always advised to bring layers.

The Kalahari Desert is a Great Place for Birding  

The Kalahari is a great place for spotting different species of birds. There’s a wide variety of bird species at present; more notably is the small Weaver Bird which can be seen forming huge nests at the tops of trees. If you’re interested in seeing the birds of Botswana, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a great place to start; here you will get to witness the wonderful wildlife of the Kalahari Basin and see many different species of birds.

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You Can See Many Animals in the Kalahari Desert

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 you can see in the Kalahari include lions, meerkats, giraffes, warthogs, jackals, baboons, antelope of all variations (eland, gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, kudu and hartebeest), various reptile species and more!

BBC 2’s Meerkat Manor was filmed in the Kalahari

The popular 2005 wildlife series Meerkat Manor produced by Oxford Scientific Films for Animal Planet International ran for 3 years before its cancellation in August 2008. Set in the Kalahari Desert, the series followed the story of Whiskers, one of the many meerkats surviving in the wild as well as a number of different meerkat groups with underground cameras. The series was created by Caroline Hawkins and was narrated by Bill Nighy, Mike Goldman, Sean Astin and Stockard Channing.

Some of the World’s Most Dangerous Cats Can be Found Here

The desert is also home to some of the world’s most dangerous cats. Big cats in the Kalahari region include 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. But please note that some of these big cats can also be rather elusive and with the cheetah being the fastest cat in the world, safari goers will need to keep their eyes peeled so not to miss them.

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Local Bushmen Have Lived There for Over 20,000 Years

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.

The Kalahari Used to Have More Plants and Animals

Although the Kalahari is rich in wildlife and plant life, it used to be much more abundant in animals and vegetation due to the lakes which existed within the plains. Many years ago, there were several large lakes in the Kalahari which helped to create a healthy ecosystem and vibrant habitat for insects, plants and animals. Over the years and due to global warming, these lakes have slowly evaporated and today they have formed huge craters and salt pans in the semi-arid landscape of the dessert.

It is the Sixth Biggest Desert in the World!

Stretching more than 360,000 square miles in distance, the Kalahari Desert is the sixth largest in the whole world. It is also the second largest desert in Africa, second only to the Sahara. The vast size of the desert makes it a diverse and interesting landscape and it crosses over Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

The Region Was Formed Over 60 Million Years Ago

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 and seismic movements caused a ‘superlake’ which later dried out, leaving behind salt deposits which form a part of the desert we know today.

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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.

The Kalahari Has Three Game Reserves Attracting Tourists Every Year  

There are a number of game reserves within the Kalahari region including the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve) which happens to be the world’s second largest protected area and a hugely popular safari destination, the Khutes Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

There are 9 Different Settlements within the Kalahari Area

Within the Botswana part of the Kalahari, there are the Ghanzi, the Tshane, the Tshabong and the Orapa people. In the Namibian part of the desert, there are Gobabis and the Mariental settlements. And in South Africa, there are the Severn, the Noenieput and the Rietfontein.

Muan is a Popular Base for Travellers Exploring this Region

Looking to explore the Kalahari Desert or the Central Kalahari Game Reserve? The reserve itself is vast in size and many travellers like to set up a comfortable base in the town Maun or use the town as a convenient connection point. This town offers regular flights to and from other key destinations such as Johannesburg and Cape Town and there are easy transfers to safari campsites.

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Desert Trekking can be Extremely Challenging  

Many visitors to the Kalahari will find walking around to be very challenging. The intense weather conditions and high intensity of sun will make a simple walk feel strenuous and it would be impossible for humans to survive in these conditions without water and food.

Explorer Guillermo Farini Believed there to be a ‘Lost City’

Explorer Guillermo Farini once published a book about some ruins he came across in the Kalahari Desert; he believed them to be the ruins of a lost city from ancient times. An archaeologist / historian’s quest was organised to after his findings to discover these ruins but nothing was ever found, even to this day. So it is understood that the explorer saw some natural rock formations in the desert and was completely mistaken.

To find out more information on travelling to the Kalahari Desert and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, please do not hesitate to contact our team at Signature Safaris. Please email info@signaturesafaris.com or call +44 (0)1342 811787 and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.