The Kalahari Desert
While Namibia is more famous for being the home of the Namib Desert, it must be remembered that much of eastern and southern Namibia is covered by another - the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari is not a true desert as it receives too much rain, but it is actually a fossil desert. So do not expect to find the tall sand dunes associated with Sossusvlei, the landscape is more one of golden grass and small red dunes.
The Kalahari Desert - or Kgalagadi, as it is known in Botswana – stretches across 7 countries – Botswana, Zambia, the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It's coverage in Namibia is called a ‘desert' principally because it's porous, sandy soils cannot retain surface water, but in some areas annual rainfall can be as high as 250mm, which accounts for the luxuriant grass cover during good years.
As the Namibian area of the Kalahari Desert is covered with trees, ephemeral rivers and fossil watercourses, the reasonably regular rainfall patterns that occur every year do allow for huge numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, plant life and insects to thrive. In terms of vegetation most of the southern segment is taken up with camelthorn, red ebony and other acacias, and towards the centre silver terminalia and shrubs are common. Farther north, where the climate is wetter, the acacia gives way to bush savannah and dry woodland of kiaat (also known as wild teak) Zambezi teak (also called mkusi or Rhodesian teak) wild seringa (formerly Rhodesian ash) manketti, shiwi and other magnificent timber species. Large numbers of Tamboti trees grow in the Grootfontein area. The quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) A. hereroensis and A. littoralis are 3 species of aloe that also occur here.
The bush and grass of the Kalahari Desert provide perfect ambush cover for cheetah to get within sprinting distance of springbok, hare and porcupine. Giraffes can go without drinking water for several weeks and browse various Acacia species for additional sustenance. Zebra graze leaves, grass, bark and roots throughout the area and gemsbok, surely one of Namibia's most remarkable mammals, obtains sufficient moisture from leaves and grasses. Black-backed jackal scavenge for carrion, kill young livestock (as do caracal) and otherwise survive on insects, birds and rodents and if the opportunity presents itself, small antelope. Black-footed cats prefer short to medium-length grass.
Primates such as the lesser bushbaby and vervet monkey, the insect-eating aardwolf and other mammals including honey badger, meerkat and yellow mongoose, are all denizens of the Kalahari Desert. Arnhem Caves, one of the largest cave systems in Africa, is situated close to Windhoek on the edge of this famous semi-barren land. A visit to it's surrounding famous red sands are well-worth the effort. The giant leaf-nosed bat, the largest insect-eating bat in the world, can be found here as well as other sorts of cave wall clingers.
After mammals, birding comes a close second for many wildlife enthusiasts visiting Namibia. Species are many and varied and the Kalahari is a superb birding destination, especially to watch raptors. Expect to see martial eagle, brown snake eagle, black-breasted snake eagle, white-backed and lappet-faced vulture. The red-necked falcon will swallow swallows, snakes, bats and rodents. An interesting sight is the huge nests, housing colonies of sociable weaver birds, these nests often completely dominate the large acacia trees or telegraph poles on which they are built. The area is also home to crimson-breasted shrike, rosy-faced lovebird, Gaber goshawk, pygmy falcon and ant-eating chats, the rolling dunes and deep Kalahari sands provide ample birding and photographic opportunities.
A desert wouldn't be a desert without reptiles and scorpions. The Kalahari purple-glossed snake live in sandy soils and round-headed worm lizards shelter under stones in both sandy and bushveld habitats. Eastern tiger snakes climb dead trees and into buildings in search of small roosting birds and bats. One of the most common snakes is the puff adder, unlike most snakes it is fairly lazy and will not necessarily move off when it hears you approaching making It is fairly easy to tread on one and they won't hesitate to introduce you to their long fangs if you do.
Scorpions are true desert-dwellers and some of the largest species in southern Africa reside in the Kalahari Desert. The orange-coloured Parabuthus granulatus dig burrows and forage actively for prey, often after other scorpions. Although it has a small sting, it is the most venomous of the region's scorpions. The largest and most common scorpion in the Kalahari sand system is the Parabuthus raudus, which reaches up to 160mm in length. Beware of this one though, especially when it is digging a burrow at the base of a plant, as it has been known to spray venom when provoked.
The regular rainfall patterns mentioned earlier support many species of plant life. This allows some of the desert's smaller creatures to locate themselves here. The obscure sapphire and silvery bar butterflies are attracted to the creamy white flowers of the black thorn acacia. The larvae of red tips and queen purple tips feed on the leaves of the shepherd's tree and the caterpillars of white-cloaked and spotted velvet skipper do likewise on the leaves of the velvet raisin bush. The Delagoa sandman can also be observed in the Kalahari Desert, often flying close to the ground or around one of the 30 species of Stipagrostis such as tall bushman grass.
The most widespread species of dragonfly on the planet visits Namibia regularly, usually gliding along courtesy of rain-bearing winds. The global wanderer sports distinctive large wings with orange tips and not only do they breed in pools of rain water but the female can oviposit in any freshwater body. The broad scarlet can inhabit any waterway and the horizontal stripes of the male violet dropwing are a feature of many a farm dam.
The aptly named Kalahari Tent Tortoise can be found in thorn bush, savannah and woodland. The main foraging period for this reptile is in the early morning when hyenas, jackals, birds of prey and honey badgers are on the prowl. San bushmen are also on the lookout for juvenile members of this species. Their shells end up being sold to unsuspecting tourists as perfume or decorated snuff containers. The eastern sandy regions attract leopard tortoises, the largest and most common of Namibia's tortoises.
Namibia's only amphibian - frogs, are represented in the Kalahari Desert. The giant bullfrog is perhaps the best known, not only because it is the largest frog in the country but when disturbed it will inflate itself, jaws open ready to give you a painful nip. Other croakers of the jumping kind include the tongue-less and eardrum free common platanna, the running frog which are often exposed at night by torchlight at the edge of the water and the rapid, high-pitched tuneful notes of Tandy's sand frog.
But the Kalahari's true lure lies in it's eerie silence and solitude, both in the sparsely grassed plains and open spaces. Small but scattered populations of people live here. Sheep, limited ostrich farming and other agricultural enterprises dominate the erratic employment market. Today many of these businesses work together with the tourist industry. This provides much-needed additional income for the farmers, job security for their employees and vacancies on a permanent or temporary basis for the locally unemployed. Farm tours, game drives, hiking, guided Bushman walks and cultural visits around ranches large and small has enabled the region to become a popular tourist destination in it's own right, especially for self-drive travelers. In Botswana although there are some private ranches, the land is mainly used on a communal basis, with the inhabitants raising goats and cattle.
The best known of the Kalahari's inhabitants are the San Bushmen, numbering only a few thousand and squeezed into inhospitable pieces of land, where they are often exploited as cheap farm labour. The term 'Bushmen' is best know referring to nomadic hunter-gather people, also called 'Basarwa', (in Botswana) and 'San' (in Namibia and South Africa.) The word San means 'foragers' and in modern times, (unfairly) conjure up negative connotations of backwardness, low esteem, alcoholism and even banditry
But the Bushmen are a proud people, and are keen to demonstrate their origins and knowledge of living in the bushveld. They still retain some specific cultural and linguistic characteristics such as the very interesting and unique 'click' language, and listening to is a wonderful experience in itself. Five types of click sounds are known to exist, with a certain 'sucking action of the tongue' being responsible for the noise. Each has a different position of the tongue, and combined with the way the air is released, results in different sounds.
The Bushmen are the remnants of Southern Africa's original inhabitants who occupied the whole sub-continent, long before black and white settlers invaded their territories and forced them to the margins. As proof of the fact that they occupied extensive territory, there are the superb ‘Bushman' rock paintings that are found in great numbers in caves and rock shelters all over southern Africa. In Namibia, excellent examples of Bushman rock art can be found in the Damaraland region. If you are wanting to visit Botswana, you may want to consider looking at car hire in Botswana.
Although there is no national park in the areas of Namibia covered by the Kalahari, there are several recommended lodges and guest farms which allow visitors to explore this desert area.
The Arnhem Caves are the largest in Namibia
Built from locally made red Kalahari clay bricks this is a wonderful lodge. Expect good food, stunning Kalahari sunsets and a warm welcome
An ideal stop over in the Kalahari en-route between Botswana and central Namibia
Hans and Claudia run an excellent guest farm - activities include game drives, learning about (and eating) local sheep, the art centre and carpet weaving. We think this is one of the best guest farms in Namibia
Offers a variety of accommodation styles from guest houses to a tented camp.
10 bedroom guest house near the main B1 road in Mariental
Large; budget friendly lodge.
Excellent lodge in the Kalahari Desert, offers accommodation in units made of straw bales or wood. Bagatelle proves to be consistently popular with guests
Interested in gliding? Then this is the lodge for you
On the private Intu Afrika Kalahari Game Reserve.
Really only suitable for fisherman - until renovations happen it is probably best not to subject yourself to this.
Tends to cater for larger groups, but the low rates make it attractive for those looking to save some money.
Small self catering establishment in the Kalahari town of Stampriet
New addition to the area - small well run lodge in an attractive area
A 12 room lodge situated in a nature reseve and set amongst the red dunes of the Kalahari Desert
The meerkat or suricate is a small mammal which inhabits the Kalahari - we do not know why this lodge is named after them. Perhaps if you stay here and find out you can tell us and then we can make this slightly more descriptive.
A tented lodge, built on the small red dunes of the Kalahari Desert.
The third lodge on the Intu Afrika Kalahari Game Reserve (along with Suricate & Camethorn Lodges). The Kalahari is absolutely magnificent and really should be a part of any visit to Namibia.