Botswana and The Kalahari Desert
Botswana, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, has a landscape defined by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, which becomes a lush animal habitat during the seasonal floods. The massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve, with its fossilized river valleys and undulating grasslands, is home to numerous animals including giraffes, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs.
The Kalahari Desert
Kalahari desert supports wildlife such as South African giraffe, bush elephant, white rhino, cape buffalo, spotted hyena, brown hyena, honey badger, meerkat, yellow mongoose, warthog, South African cheetah, caracal, Cape wild dog, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, cape fox, African leopard, lion, blue wildebeest, plains zebra, common eland, sable antelope, gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, impala, greater kudu, aardvark, cape ground squirrel, cape hare, cape porcupine, chacma baboon, red hartebeest and ostrich.
Endemic Species of the Kalahari Desert
The best-known meerkat is certainly Timon, one of the main characters in the Disney animated picture The Lion King.
Although Timon hung out with a lion and a warthog in the movie, meerkats usually stick together in large groups called “mobs” or “gangs”.
They mainly prey on insects and like other members of the mongoose family, they are immune to venom allowing them to eat scorpions and snakes without being poisoned.
Meerkats have a hairless patch on their bellies that they use to absorb the heat after cold desert nights.
The Gemsbok is a large African antelope with very long horns, sometimes used in defence against the Kalahari lions.
They can survive days or even weeks without drinking water. They rely on some of the Kalahari’s plants that have also adapted to the dry conditions and either store water or have mechanisms to prevent excess water loss.
The plants gradually release dew during the hotter parts of the day. Some plants increase their water content by 25 to 40 percent, so when the gemsbok feed late at night or early in the morning, the plants provide them with both food and water.
The Kalahari lion is a sub-species that behaves and looks different from other lions as a result of its adaptation to the Kalahari environment.
Compared to other lions, it lives in smaller groups, covers larger home territories and hunts smaller prey. One of its favourite dishes is the gemsbok, but when they are not available lions also eat antelopes, porcupines and other small mammals.
The Kalahari lion is lighter and males have black manes.
Social weavers are a sub-species of the weaver birds, named for their ability to weave very large communal nests.
The communal nests can measure up to 6 meters long and 2 meters high, and can weigh as much as 1,000 kg while housing up to 300 birds. The nests are built with insulated walls to maintain a stable temperature inside the nest to keep the weavers warm at night and cool during the day.
Like the gemsbok, social weavers seldom need to drink water.
The camelthorn tree is an acacia tree endemic to the Kalahari region. It is practically the only tree that has adapted to the Kalahari environment and is thus a key component of the ecosystem.
The camelthorn tree provides nutrients for other plants and shrubs, which grow more densely around the trees, while their leaves provide food for animals. The shade of the tree also serves as a refuge for animals during the day and the social weavers build their nests in its branches.
The Hoodia cactus thrives in extremely high temperatures, and takes many years to mature.
The San people, who have inhabited the Kalahari for more than 22,000 years as hunters-gathers, have traditionally eaten this cactus to stave off hunger and thirst during long hunting trips or times of drought.
A few years ago, scientists identified the molecule present in the Hoodia cactus which fools the brain into believing it is not hungry. Pharmaceutical companies have since started conducting clinical tests with the intent to sell diet pills using the unique molecule featured by Hoodia. The San people, who currently live in poverty, are demanding a share of the profits for the use of their traditional knowledge and for the right to access this resource.