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Botswana Safari

Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Safari Information

Bushman Bushman Wild Stockrose (Hibiscus) Bushman

Return to Map of Central Kalahari

Most of Botswana is mantled by the sands of the Kalahari Desert, so termed because apart from a few perennial springs, the soils are poor and the landscapes arid. The is no surface water in the Kalahari and precious little rain. It is not a true desert though, but rather an arid savanna wilderness - its broad, largely featureless plains are clad, albeit scantly, by sweet grasses and patches of Camelthorn, Blackthorn and other Acacias.

The Park is home to scattered groups of Bushman people, but also to large numbers of game animals that, because they are so remarkably well adapted, manage to thrive in a region where rainfall is rare and there are no rivers or permanent waterholes. This area is really remote.

Few geographic names are as evocative as "the Kalahari". This miss-spelt angloism has come to represent the vastness of Africa's outback with all the romantic undertones of nomadic hunter-gatherers, lions and golden grasslands gently waving under the canopy of a limitless blue sky.

Yet within this remote expansive landscape there is a rich diversity of life, each with its own remarkable adaptation to survive the parched dryness.

200 Million years ago, the super continent of Gondwana started breaking up, and formed several basins, one of which, The Kalahari Basin is now almost completely full of Aeolian sand. Fragments of granite gneiss rock, which formed the base of this original basin, can be found along the borders of the country, particularly around Francistown and the southern Barolon are. These rocks are more than 3.5 billion years of age and are probably the oldest rocks in the world. Overlaying this deeply buried foundation stone is a matrix of Karoo deposits, made up of sandstone, baalt lava's, shale's and thin seams of coal all about 300 million years old.

80 Million years ago, the eruption of several kimberlitic volcano pipes punched through the earth's crust. The right temperature and pressure conditions changed the carbon contained in some of these lavas over a long period, into the diamonds, which today fuels Botswana's economic development.

The Kalahari, or "Kgalagadi" as it is correctly called in Setswana, covers much of Botswana.

With little more than 100 to 200mm of rainfall per year, the fauna and flora in the Kalahari wages a daily struggle for survival and cannot cope with the additional pressures on unchecked visitors or the encroaching cattle.

It is said that in the Kalahari it is not necessarily the strongest or most intelligent of species that survive, but rather those that can best adapt to change. This being the case the wildlife of the Kalahari should be able to survive almost anything, as they have made remarkable adaptations in the past to overcome this challenging environment.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covering an area just under the combined size of Holland and Belgium, is truly immense, and the irony is that when it was declared in 1961 one of the primary purposes was not necessarily to protect the animals that lived in the area but to protect the people that lived there.

Brown HyenaThe Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of several reserves and parks in Botswana that seek to protect the unique wilderness environment, its fauna and its flora from human encroachment and spoliation. The Park is huge, 60,000 square kilometres (23,166 miles2) in total area, a fact which makes it the world's second largest conservancy.

This great, forbidding place manages to sustain an amazing quantity and diversity of animals. Herds of graceful Springbok and Gemsbok, Blue Wildebeest, Eland, Red Hartebeest, animals that are superbly adapted to the bone-dry conditions, roam the great sunlit spaces. The movements of the herds are determined by the rare rains and the gift of the short-lived grasses they bring. Many of these animals also extract water from such unlikely sources as the dew-covered nighttime plants, from deep roots of succulents, or from the moisture-laden Wild Cucumber and Tsamma Melon.

In turn, the antelopes provide food for the carnivores of the desert - Cheetah, Lion, Leopard, both Brown and Spotted Hyena, and Wild Dog - slake their thirst from the blood of their prey alone.

The Park also supports populations of Giraffe, Ostrich, Eland, the well-documented Suricate (or Meerkat), Bat-eared Fox, Honey Badger, Jackal, Porcupone, and many other species. As in most desert biomes, there are snakes and other reptiles but also a great diversity of bird species.

The Kalahari also has its indigenous human presence: it is home to the last of the "traditional" Bushman communities - descendants of the once-dominant semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer inhabitants of these thirstlands. The pressures of Western culture however, have proved irresistible, and few, if any, of these people now follow, in any complete sense, the ways of their ancestors.

The Bushmen
Kalahari BushmenThe Bushmen of Southern Africa are renowned, both for their ancient culture and their unique ways of surviving. Even in the most inhospitable environments, such as the arid Kalahari, hunting and gathering provide sustenance as it has done for thousands of years. The ancestors of the Bushmen were the first-known inhabitants of the sub-continent.

Fascination with the Bushmen has many dimensions. The heritage of their ancestors includes artefacts and rock art. The contemporary arts and crafts produced by various groups of Bushmen today in Botswana have received international acclaim. The veldcraft and hunting skills of the Bushmen are legendary, and their complex traditions and social life are of continuing interest to people who are intrigued by the rich cultural fabric of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Bushmen or San as they are also called are one of Africa's oldest peoples. These "little yellow people" as some writers describe them, unfortunately can't live the subsistence way of life anymore.

It is also interesting to note that the Khoi Khoi (herders) who lived more along the coastal areas and parts of South Africa did not survive the Colonial changes, however the Bushmen (hunter gatherers) who mainly lived in arid semi desert areas survived to tell their tales, although their lives was far more difficult.

Needless to say, present-day Bushmen do not live in the Stone Age, but their way of life - collecting plant foods and hunting game - is the oldest known human economy, on which provides a lining even in the vast, arid stretches of the Kalahari.

Although their style of living seems simple, it is based on an intimate understanding of the environment, as well as traditional knowledge that may go back many generations.

The Bushmen also have an extraordinary rich cultural and social life. Anthropologists have extensively studied all their story-telling traditions, dances, music, traditional healing practices, arts and craft making. San-speakers today are acutely aware of their heritage and of the need to preserve it.

It is often thought that the Kalahari Bushmen were driven into this inhospitable region through conflict with other African peoples and European settlers, but archaeology shows that hunter- gatherers have lived in the Kalahari for millennia, developing unique ways of dealing with the environment.

Another misconception has it that the Bushmen lived in isolation, but they have in fact been interacting with their neighbours for many centuries. Even in the arid Kalahari, the veld provides people with all the materials required for their everyday lives.

Recommended Reading            Our complete list of Recommended Safari Reading
Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owen is an entertaining and readable account of an American couple who studied brown hyena in Botwana's Deception Valley.

Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens van der Post is an anthropological classic about the San people of the Kalahari.

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Water / Land Activity Table for Botswana camps:  Water/Land Botswana
Flying Times between Botswana camps:  Fly Times Botswana

For further information about Botswana, click More Botswana

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