12 Interesting Kalahari Desert Facts

This remarkable piece of nature covers large parts of Southern Africa.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting Kalahari Desert facts, one of the most amazing deserts in the world!

1 It’s located within the borders of 3 countries in Southern Africa

The Kalahari Desert is one of the largest deserts in the world, ranking number 6 if we include Antarctica. It covers a total area of about 900,000 square kilometers (360,000 square miles).

This means that it covers a large area in Southern Area and is located within the borders of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.

Kalahari desert location
The desert covers the central part of Southern Africa / Wiki Commons

2. The Kalahari isn’t a full desert but a semi-desert

Even though it’s being referred to as a desert, the Kalahari is really a semi-desert, which means it’s a lot wetter than a true desert such as the nearby Namib Desert (to the west) and the Sahara Desert in the north of the continent.

The driest areas receive yearly precipitation of anywhere between 110 and 200 millimeters (4.3 and 7.9 inches), while the wettest areas receive a lot more rain with just over 500 millimeters (20 inches) per year.

In the northern and eastern parts of the desert, the climate is even described as “sub-humid” as opposed to “semi-arid.” In the southern and western parts of the desert, the climate is described as “Kalaharian semi-arid,” areas where the Kalahari is also a semi-desert.

kalahari desert precipitation
Thunderstorm in the desert / Hp.Baumeler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

3. The dry season is much longer than the wet season

The desert is sometimes described as the southern and tropical equivalent of the Sahel climate which dominates the northern part of Africa.

The wet season is during the summer and lasts anywhere between 1 to 4 months. This means that the dry season lasts at least 8 months and happens between September to May.

Kalahari desert facts
Landscape in the desert / Winfried Bruenken / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

4. Some areas of the Kalahari experience frost during the winter

The desert isn’t described as “tropical” but “sub-tropical.” That’s because the coldest month has an average temperature of below 18 °C (64.4°F). In some areas, there’s even a possibility of winter frost during the coldest months of the year between June and August.

The main reason for this is that the desert is located at an elevation of 600 to 1600 meters (1,968 to 5,249 feet). That’s in sheer contrast to the much lower Sahara in the northern part of the continent, resulting in that desert being much hotter than the one in the southern part of Africa.

To give some reference, the hottest average temperature in the Kalahari never exceeds 29 °C (84.2°F), as opposed to average temperatures of over 38 °C (100.4°F) being recorded in the Sahara!

kalahari aerial view
Aerial view of the desert / Hp.Baumeler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. One of the longest rivers in the region flows through it

One of the most remarkable Kalahari Desert facts is that a permanent river flows through it. This river is called the Okavango and forms a delta in the northwest of the desert full of marshes, the perfect location for wildlife.

This is also the 4th longest river in southern Africa and therefore one of the most important rivers in the region. It has a total length of 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) and its basin covers an area of 530,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles).

okavango delta
Part of the Okavango Delta / Diego Delso / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

6. Parts of the desert feature enormous salt pans

Large parts of the desert, especially the driest parts, consist of dry forests and savannah. Some of the most magnificent feats of nature in the Kalahari are so-called “salt pans.”

These are vast areas of flat desert land covered with salt and other minerals. This desert features some of the most magnificent salt pans in the world, including but not limited to:

  • Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana.
  • Etosha Pan in Namibia.
  • Groot-vloer Pan and Verneukpan in South Africa.

The Makgadikgadi Pan is one of the biggest in the world, covering a total area of 4,921 square kilometers (1,900 square miles).

trees and salt pan
Trees and the salt pan / Stefan Huchler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

7. The desert was once much wetter and featured huge lakes

The climate of the desert has changed considerably over the past millions of years. At some points, the desert was much drier than it is today, in some periods it was much wetter, all in line with the global climate change cycles.

During the wetter periods, the desert was covered with several very big lakes, one being the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi. This lake dried out about 10,000 years ago after existing for nearly 2 million years covering an area of between approximately 80,000 to 275,000 square kilometers (30,888 to 106,178 square miles).

The Makgadikgadi and Etosha salt pans are the remains of these ancient lakes.

etosha pan namibia
Etosha Pan / Ji-Elle / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

8. The largest non-subglacial underground lake can be found here

One of the most fascinating Kalahari Desert facts is that below the hot and arid landscape of the desert there are huge subterranean water reserves. These reserves are remains of the ancient lakes that were once located here.

One of these reserves is called the Dragon’s Breath Cave and is considered to be the largest documented non-subglacial underground lake in the world, covering an area of nearly 2 hectares (4.9 acres).

This fascinating wonder of nature is located 46 kilometers (29 miles) to the northwest of Grootfontein in Namibia.

9. The Kalahari has a lot more vegetation than true deserts

The amount of precipitation the desert gets is sufficient to support a wide variety of plants and flowers. Acacia trees are pretty common and most parts of the deserts have a vegetation cover of over 30%, which is way more than in true deserts.

A large area of the desert consists of xeric savanna, a mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem. Various types of grasses grow here as well as various types of trees such as:

  • Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba)
  • Grey camelthorn (Acacia haematoxylon)
  • Shepherd’s Tree (Boscia albitrunca)
  • Blackthorn (Acacia mellifera)
  • Silver cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea)
kalahari desert vegetation
Typical vegetation / Olga Ernst & Hp.Baumeler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

10. A particular type of fruit is endemic to the desert

One of the most fascinating plants in the Kalahari is the endemic Kiwani fruit. This fruit has several different names, including the horned melon, melano, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, or hedged gourd.

This extremely healthy fruit has horn-like spikes and the ripe fruit has orange skin with green fruit inside. The taste is described as being a combination of banana and passionfruit.

kiwano fruit
Kiano Fruit / Anagoria / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

11. The desert features grazing spots for a wide variety of wild animals

While most of the wild animals don’t hang around in the desert during the hot summer months, the riverbeds and marshes are frequently used by a wide variety of wild animals as grazing spots. These include (but are not limited to) the:

  • Lion (Panthera leo)
  • Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
  • Leopard (Panthera pardus)
  • Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
  • Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea)
  • Cape wild dog (Lycaon pictus pictus)

Some areas, including the large salt pans in Botswana, are seasonal wetlands and are important areas for migratory birds as well such as ducks, geese, great white pelicans, and greater flamingos.

greater flamingo migration salt pan
Greater flamingo migration / Source

12. Indigenous people have lived in the desert for over 20,000 years

One of the most fascinating Kalahari Desert facts is that indigenous people, referred to as the “San People” or “Bushmen,” have been living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the desert for about 20,000 years.

They hunt game in the desert and eat berries, nuts, fruits, and even insects. Their water supply is limited as they have to drain it from plant roots and desert melons they can find.

So are there any cities located here?

Not really, but the city of Windhoek, the capital and largest city in Namibia, is located within the Kalahari Basin.

windhoek namibia
Windhoek in Namibia / Wiki Commons