The Kalahari Desert is a vast arid grassland that reaches into three African nations -- Botswana, Namibia and South Africa -- and encompasses an area of approximately 360,000 square miles. Due to this great range and the seasonal and geographic variations in water and temperature, the Kalahari has a rich and diverse population of wildlife that includes at least 320 species of mammals and birds alone.
The Kalahari is perhaps best known for its array of large mammal species, particularly in the wetter northern parts of the desert. Here travelers can find a number of Africa’s most famous large mammals, including Kalahari lions -- a subspecies of the African lion, adapted specifically for the challenges of the arid Kalahari -- cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, giraffes, wild dogs, zebras, impalas, baboons, elephants, desert black rhinos and buffalo. In the south one can find large herds of mammals like wildebeest, hartebeest, springbok and gemsbok.
Though large mammals are an obvious attraction to the Kalahari, a number of interesting small mammals also call the desert home and help to round out the desert's 80 distinct mammal species. Large colonies of meerkats reside throughout the Kalahari, where they dig elaborate underground burrows for protection from both predators and extreme heat. Other small mammals commonly found in the Kalahari Desert include honey badgers, porcupines, aardvarks, warthogs, anteaters, hares, silver and bat-eared foxes and jackals.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Several species of reptiles and amphibians are adapted for life in the Kalahari Desert. Snakes like the venomous puff adder, as well as tiger snakes and Kalahari purple-glossed snakes can be found in the Kalahari, in addition to between 12 and 18 lizard species, including several species of geckos. Amphibians, too, live in this dry environment despite their need for water to reproduce. Frogs make use of the rare rains by reproducing whenever water is available, regardless of the time of year. Some, like the African bullfrog, will completely bury themselves below the sand during dry times of the year cand sustain themselves using moisture from their digestive tracts.
Roughly 240 species of birds spend time in the Kalahari Desert, from large solitary birds of prey to small swallows. Even shore birds like flamingos can be seen in the Kalahari; these large pink birds spend their time in the southern river areas of the desert. Other commonly encountered birds are social weavers, who, as the name implies, build large, woven communal nests that can house up to 300 individuals. Several species of vultures also patrol the skies of the Kalahari and keep carrion from collecting in the arid grasslands.
- Tswalu Kalahari: Wildlife
- Convention on Biological Diversity: Endemic Species of the Kalahari Desert
- Maryland Zoo: African Bullfrog
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Kalahari Introduction
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Kalahari Animal Life
- National Geographic: Meerkat
- Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa; William R. Branch
- Ecology; Lizard Species Density in the Kalahari Desert; Eric R. Planka
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images