7 Animals to see in the Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari Desert is not an easy place to survive in, with its dearth of water and harsh, extreme temperatures in both summer and winter. Yet, it is home to a wide variety of wildlife and birdlife who have adapted to these arid conditions. Predators often quench their thirst with the liquid from their prey, while herbivores eat water-rich plants and leaves. Game viewing is easier here due to the dry conditions, as animals tend to gather at watering holes or shelter under big trees for shade.
Here are 7 species of wildlife that you will find in the Kalahari.
Although lions are not unique to the Kalahari, those found in this region are well-adapted to live in this desert environment. They have longer legs, leaner physiques and built-in cooling mechanisms, and can survive for long periods without water as long as they eat small frequent meals. The males have black manes.
The world’s fastest land animal, and a vulnerable species, these teary-eyed cats are most often found in open plains such as those in the Kalahari. They are some of the most successful hunters in the wild; however their kills are often stolen by other carnivores or predators who travel in larger groups. Sometimes, they are attacked by larger predators like lions too. Like the desert lions, the desert cheetahs are well adapted to their environment. They are lighter in colour than other African cheetahs and they rarely consume water.
Although brown hyenas are the rarest of the hyena species, they are common in the Kalahari Desert. These elusive scavengers are social animals who live together in small clans. Unlike other desert animals, they do not migrate. Instead, they settle down in one place, from where they travel long distances for food every night, feeding on old carcasses as well as small mammals and birds.
Elephants may not be as common in the Kalahari as they are in the forests; however, they do exist. Although they are capable of drinking over 200 litres of water a day, desert elephants can survive for several days without it. They often migrate during the dry seasons, when there is insufficient water to meet their needs. Matriarchs lead them across large distances to previously visited watering holes, and their desert-adapted large feet stop them from sinking into the sand as they walk.
One of Africa’s Shy Five – so named because they are elusive and rarely seen – meerkats are found in sandy desert areas like the Kalahari. Member of the mongoose family, these sociable creatures form groups known as mobs or gangs which are led by a dominant male or female. They live in burrows consisting of extensive underground networks and huddle together in groups when they go to sleep. Meerkats can be seen standing in their characteristic upright position like sentinels as they look out for predators, warning the group of danger with a piercing call.
One of the most common animals in the Kalahari is the oryx, also known as a gemsbok. These attractive antelopes are well-adapted to survive in the rough desert conditions and can withstand extremely hot temperatures with the help of the blood cooling systems in their nostrils. Their slow metabolisms use less energy and they dig for water-storing plants and roots. Predators find it difficult to catch them as they are fast and alert, and have long sharp horns.
South Africa’s national animal, the springbok is a small, graceful antelope found mainly in open grasslands and dry, semi-desert areas like the Kalahari. They get their name from the way they spring high up in the air. These sociable animals live in free-roaming herds, feeding on grass and leaves, and turning their backs towards the sun. They can survive without water for longer periods, although they will drink it when it’s available. The Kalahari springboks are a bit bigger than their common counterparts and they have different face markings.
Sara Essop is a travel blogger and freelance writer based in South Africa. She writes about family travel and experiences around the world. Her hobbies include taking the road less travelled and discovering fascinating places everywhere. Although she has been to 47 countries thus far, her favourite place to be in is the African bush.