What is the Kalahari?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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The Kalahari is a massive, grassy savanna which stretches from Namibia to Zimbabwe, covering parts of South Africa and Botswana as well. While the area is often called a desert, this designation is incorrect. Although it is a sand basin, it supports trees, grasses, and wildlife. Parts of the Kalahari have been designated wildlife parks, to protect the species which migrate across the savanna.

The Kalahari covers 100,000 square miles (259,000 square kilometers) and has rainfall which ranges from 5 inches (13 centimeters) to 20 inches (51 centimeters) in various regions. An array of animal and plant life can be found there, which was formed over 60 million years ago. The Kalahari began life as a sand basin filled with water. Over the millennia, the area dried out, leaving behind a legacy of red sand formed into fantastic dunes. Plant life began to appear, stabilizing the dunes and providing habitat for animals. Parts of the region have salt pans, which have vast deposits of white salt.


Plants of the Kalahari include camel thorn trees, the shepherd tree, black thorn, desert melon, ghaap, devil's thorn, and a variety of grasses. Most of the plants are extremely drought tolerant and capable of living in very extreme conditions. The camel thorn tree is probably the most famous plant of the Kalahari, and appears in many films about the region. Many hooved animals including eland, springbok and gemsbock wander the region, preyed on by lions and cheetahs. Also sharing this space are hyenas, meerkats, and in some regions, elephants and rhinos. Numerous bird species call the Kalahari home also.

The Kalahari supports human life as well. Several nomadic groups live in the region, including the San, also known as Bushmen, and Kanembu. The San people are very well known because of their distinctive language, which incorporates whistles and clicks. Living in the Kalahari can be extremely difficult. Most food is hunted or gathered, and people move with the seasons or changes in animal migration routes and weather.

The Kalahari is a popular tourist destination for safaris. It is an area of stunning natural beauty and isolation which has captivated many visitors. It also represents a well balanced ecosystem of plants, animals, and people living together in an arid and difficult region. The establishment of protected areas in the 1930s by forward thinking conservationists ensures that the region will be enjoyed for years to come by visitors and those who live there.


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Post 1

I have friends who would love to visit the Kalahari. However, going there would be one of my worst nightmares because of the dangerous animals that inhabit the region.

I can’t imagine wanting to roam around out in the open in an area filled with giant man-eating beasts. Just seeing lions on television paralyzes me with fear. I am happy to live in a country where I don’t have to worry about encountering a lion. Also, a rhino could stomp a man to death. I stay away from regular cows for this reason, so I would never seek out these animals.

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