The Kalahari Desert covers the entire western and central regions of Botswana and stretches into Namibia and South Africa. With an average annual rainfall of 250mm, it is not a true desert but rather a “thirst-land” with grasses and scrub vegetation prevailing. Despite the lack of surface water, the area supports a great variety of plants, animals and birds and many of these species have developed fascinating adaptations to their harsh environment. Because of its remote and arid nature, the Kalahari is difficult to access and human interference continues to be minimal, the area is therefore extremely important for conservation.
The best time to visit the Kalahari is between December and April when the rains bring the area to life and the harsh plains are transformed into swathes of lush grassland
Two distinct conservation areas exist within the Kalahari; the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana and the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park in the south west of the country.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers a vast area of 52,800km2 (the approximate size of Holland and Belgium combined) and was originally established in order to provide protection for the San bushmen who still live in increasingly small and remote communities within the reserve. The landscape is predominantly sand with dry fossil valleys, dune fields and grassy plains. The Reserve itself is one of the largest in Africa, and the second largest protected area in the world.
Pans such as Deception Dry Valley, Piper Pans and Sunday Pans fill with water during the rainy season and attract great numbers of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok, eland, cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog. In addition to these larger species, the area is home to many smaller animals such as spring hare, suricate (meerkat) and bat eared fox.
The Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park was established in 1999 and incorporates the previous Gemsbok National Park of Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa. The Park now covers an area of just under 38,000km2 and is managed as a single ecological unit with the co-operation of both Botswana and South Africa. Rolling grasslands and pastel coloured sand dunes provide the backdrop for a range of species including hartebeest, eland, springbok, gemsbok, leopard, lion, cheetah and the rare brown hyena. The Park is also a haven for thousands of birds, more than fifty raptor species occur here. Infrastructure is extremely basic at present with camping sites being the only form of accommodation.