THE KALAHARI DESERT

The Kalahari Desert covers the eastern and North-Eastern regions of Namibia, from where it runs into the neighbouring Botswana, a country that mainly consists of the red Kalahari Desert. It is the world’s largest area covered exclusively by sand and reaches north from South Africa over 9 different countries to the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in North Africa. The Namibian part of the Kalahari Desert is allocated to the area east and north east of Mariental and include the Waterberg, the area surrounding Tsumkwe as well all areas that constitute the Caprivi strip. Unlike other true deserts, the southern Kalahari (or Kgalakgadi as it is locally known) does receive a sprinkling of erratic rainfall and also shows more vegetation than for example the Namib Desert. Unique to the Kalahari are the parallel running dunes that can be seen with the naked eye from space. The areas in between the dunes are called “streets”, and this is where most of the vegetation is found as the rainwater runs down the dunes and collects in these so called streets. Huge, age-old camelthorn trees, whose roots reach some 40 meters down to the ground water level, give a home to gigantic nests of the sociable weaver bird. Some of these nests weigh in excess of 2 tons and give shelter to over 200 bird families. Animals found in the Kalahari Desert (also in the Namib Desert) consist of creatures that can endure extreme heat, are relatively independent of water and are physiologically adapted to survive where no normal living organism could live for longer than 2 days. Some of the larger animals / birds consist of the oryx, springbok and ostrich, while smaller animals such as bat-eared fox, shrub hares and aardwolves survive in the desert by receiving the necessary moisture from the food they eat. The animals of the Kalahari desert do not today include the complete big five of Africa, except in areas where they have been re-introduced. Although there are plenty of Kalahari desert lions, elephants are restricted to the northern parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. The same goes for rhino and African buffalo. The leopard is quite common in all parts of the Kalahari Desert, including the southern Kalahari. The "Big five" of the Namibian Kalahari Desert, are the gemsbok (or Oryx), the Kalahari desert lion, the springbok, the eland and the leopard. The Kalahari lacks any permanent surface water and is an unkind place to live in, except for the hardiest of God’s creatures. This harsh environment was avoided by most outsiders, but the !Kung Bushmen are able to survive by adapting to their surroundings. Their villages, consisting of 10-30 people, are semi-permanent; once the water source dries up, the band has to carry their belongings to a new site where a reliable source of water can be located, automatically bringing with it the presence of animals that also are attracted by the water source. Vegetation in the Kalahari consists mainly of grasses and acacias but there are over 400 identified plant species present. Two plant species found exclusively in the Kalahari Desert, and which play a vital role in the survival for the Bushman, have over the past years gained international attention and have since then been commercialised in pill and tea form. The sap of the “Hoodia” plant (it resembles a spiny cactus with the most beautiful flowers) has been used by the Bushman for hundreds of years to suppress hunger when food is not readily available…..the medicinal components contained within the Hoodia sap are commercially extracted and sold worldwide as a weight-loss medicine! The other plant is the “Devil’s Claw”, a ground growing plant whose roots, when taken in various forms, are used to treat ailments such as arthritis, high blood pressure and many other diseases.