The Kalahari is not an easy place to know. It is still less easy to understand.  



Not a Desert?

The Kalahari ‘desert’ is not technically a desert. At least, not all of it is. Some is actually well-vegetated. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica says, ‘The word desert overstates the aridity of the Kalahari, which is more aptly described as a thirst-land'. The northeastern region receives moisture-bearing air from the Indian Ocean and so has twice as much rainfall as the 25cm maximum often used to define a desert.
80% of Botswana is covered by the Kalahari desert, including the country’s highest point, Tsodilo Hills. The hills are known as the 'Louvre of the Desert', as they are home to 4,500 cave paintings.
Hyenas, lions, meerkats, baboons, giraffes and many species of antelope can be found in the Kalahari. The Kalahari lion, Camelthorn tree, Hoodia Cactus and Social Weaver birds are found there and nowhere else.

The !Xóõ language of the Kalahari has 126 consonants and 83 'click' sounds.


A fool and water will go the way they are diverted.

San People and Beetle Juice

The Kalahari is home to the San people, many of whom believe the world was created by a praying mantis. They smear their arrows with a poison squeezed from the African arrow-poison beetle. As a simple precaution against accidentally poisoning themselves, they smear the poison onto the shaft of the arrow, not the tip.
The poison works on large game animals, but very slowly; if someone shoots, say, a giraffe, he will have to follow it for several days until the animal finally succumbs to the poison. Oddly, the benefit to this particular beetle of being poisonous is unclear, as the poison is harmless to mammals if eaten – it has to enter the bloodstream directly, which it is only likely to do in the context of being smeared onto a poison arrow. The pupae of the arrow-poison beetle can be dried and smoked, in which form they are hallucinogenic.


What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Kanye North and Kanye South (but not Kanye West) are both parliamentary constituencies in the Kalahari.

How did the Meerkat Cross the Road?

Dominant meerkats in the Kalahari use their underlings as guinea pigs when deciding whether to cross a road. The highest-ranking female leads her group up to the road, but then hands over to a lower-ranking member, who goes across first in case it's dangerous. This is a rational strategy, as the whole group is more at risk if the leading female is killed.
Meerkats have ‘traditions’: they get up earlier or later, not depending on genetic or ecological conditions, but purely because they've learned to do so from earlier generations. 

‘Kalahari’ comes from the Tswana word Kgala meaning ‘the great thirst’.

Diamond Pipes

The discovery of diamond pipes in the Kalahari gave Botswana the fastest-growing economy in the world in the 20 years leading up to 1994, but Survival International complains that Botswana's Bushmen have been forced from their Central Kalahari Game Reserve since the discovery of diamonds there in the 1980s. Although they won a legal battle in 2006, Survival reports that the government has been dragging its heels.