The Kalahari Wildlife
Grasslands and woodlands
Botswana’s Kalahari reserves are home to one of the most interesting set of animals in southern Africa. There are dry-area specialists – the springbok and rapier-horned gemsbok – alongside more familiar savannah animals – giraffe, kudu and wildebeest. Then, the mix of grassland and woodland habitats encourages both grazing and browsing species while summer rains trigger a mass migration of zebra into the Kalahari. The result is that Kalahari is prime predator country – all the big cats occur here as do wild dogs and hyenas. It’s also one of the best places to see Africa’s smaller, more elusive mammals – porcupine, aardwolf, honey badger and wild cat.
Accommodations set in the national parks offer morning and afternoon game drives; those in private concessions are able to add night drives and guided walks to their list of activities. Wildlife viewing in the Kalahari is most popular during the drier and cooler winter but summer rains transform the Kalahari into a green paradise and can deliver excellent predator-prey interactions.
KALAHARI DESERT WILDLIFE
The most obvious desert specialist is the ubiquitous springbok antelope, often seen in large herds browsing on grasslands with gemsbok usually close by – large and beautifully patterned antelopes with long straight horns that can reach six feet. Animals mostly absent from Chobe and Moremi such as eland and red hartebeest are found in the Kalahari and it’s the best place to see bat-eared foxes and meerkats. Other Kalahari specialists include aardwolf, springhare and brown hyena, shy and rare animals best seen on night drives.
The Kalahari’s male lions have long had a reputation for their size and thick black mane and still occur in healthy numbers throughout the region, their prides moving with the rhythms of their prey. The open nature of the Kalahari landscape means good hunting for cheetahs – relatively easy to see in the reserves – as well as packs of African wild dog but leopards prefer the cover of tangled tree islands and woodland fringes. Its night skies ringing with the sound of black-baked jackals, the Kalahari is perhaps the best place in Botswana to see brown hyena, honey badger and African wild cat.
November rains trigger the movement of animals from northern Botswana into the Kalahari as its grasslands turn green and waterholes fill up over the summer months. Zebra are perhaps the most numerous animal on the move and are seen in large, dynamic herds in Nxai Pan and the Makgadikgadi but they are joined by wildebeest and – on occasion – elephant and buffalo, the latter seen regularly at Nxai Pan. The arrival of the zebras and their recently born foals coincides with the springbok birthing season and the result is a spectacular one for predator viewing as big cats, jackals and wild dogs move in to take advantage of the bounty.
Home to a different set of resident birds compared to the Okavango Delta and Chobe, the Kalahari has plenty to keep the casual birder happy over the dry winter months. There are ostriches and giant kori bustards as well as many birds of prey – eagles, goshawks and vultures – but it is over the green summer months that the birdlife in the Kalahari is at its best. Migrant waders and wildfowl arrive, as do bee-eaters and cuckoos as well as insect-hunting kingfishers and flocks of storks. A birding highlight is during a summer termite swarm when hundreds of falcons, buzzards, kites and kestrels fill the air in a frantic feeding frenzy.