The Central Kalahari isn’t a conventional safari destination by any standard. Most of it’s been closed to the public until recent years, traditional game viewing is challenging during the regular safari season from June to October when migratory game moves north to permanent waters. The “best time to travel” is in fact the most difficult time of year when rains are expected on occasion between December and April!
One of the world’s most extensive mantles of sand that extends south into South Africa, west into Namibia and north into Angola and Zambia. This Kalahari sand covers a hollow basin to form a flat plain that covers nearly 70% of Botswana. This truly massive wilderness broadly includes the Makgadikgadi and Nxai pans and provides fascinating ecological habitats influenced by larger geological factors and copious but very unpredictable seasonal rains.
The “Kalahari Desert” isn’t a true desert though. It’s well vegetated because of the rains but it holds no permanent water. This results in a deep ecological challenge for flora, fauna and the San Bushmen who’ve inhabited the area for over 30000 years.
The wider region includes several of Africa’s remote game reserves.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was brought to the world’s attention through Mark and Delia Owens’ book “Cry of the Kalahari” during their research on brown hyena between 1974 and 1981. It’s an ideal haunt for seasoned travellers or old Africa hands interested in exploration and happy to take time to discover wildlife in this harsh and unforgiving environment.
Khutse Game Reserve is a small reserve abutting the CKGR’s southern boundary. It consists mostly of some 60 calcrete pans within undulating savannah.
Gemsbok National Park, situated in the dry south of Botswana provides excellent habitats for raptors with nearly 50 having been listed – the oryx or gemsbok after which it is named are best seen between March and May.
Makgadikgadi Pans are a fascinating area for exploration best visited on a mobile safari or on horseback between May and September.
Moremi Game Reserve is located within the Okavango Delta, a tranquil oasis in northern Botswana often described as the “jewel” of the Kalahari.
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The Kalahari is famous for its desert adapted black maned lions. Sometimes larger than their gold maned counterparts but the striking difference is the deep contrast between a tawny coat and a long black mane framing the face.
Why black? Perhaps they’re remnants of the extinct “cape lion”. Perhaps it’s to do with reducing heat loss and keeping them warm during the cold desert nights.
The origins of the San people or Bushmen can be traced back 46000 years. The territorial span of these indigenous hunter gatherers includes Botswana, Namibia and southern Angola. They’ve always lived in the Central Kalahari where a small population remains somewhat true to their traditions. Ancestral land conflict is affecting the last remaining communities in Botswana.
These charismatic creatures are found in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts then further afield into Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They’re very sociable living in “clans”, “mobs” or “gangs” of 20 to 50 individuals. They take turns at sentry and baby sitting duties. Despite their slim and slender size powerful claws make them excellent diggers. They live mostly on insects, spiders and scorpions.