Our study area – the Kalahari

Leopard Ecology & Conservation works in Khutse and the southern section of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve as well as around the village of Kaudwane. Our total study area covers approximately
15’000 km². Together Khutse and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve encompass an area of 55’000 km² and form the central section of the greater Kalahari ecosystem covering much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa.

Although commonly referred to as a desert, the Kalahari is in fact an arid savannah covered with trees and grasses. Average annual rainfall varies between 150 and 400 mm. This rain usually falls in short heavy showers (up to 100 mm in 30 minutes!) between the months of November and March. The temperatures in the summer are highest just before the rains in October-November and can reach up to 55 degrees Celsius. In the depth of winter, in June and July, night time temperatures regularly drop below 0 degrees Celsius. The sandy, well drained, nutrient poor soil, combined with low, erratic rainfall and extremes of temperature can make the Kalahari a difficult place to live in.

Although most of the Kalahari is on fine sand there are occasional pans. These pans tend to be found along fossil river beds and have relatively mineral rich clay soils that support distinct vegetation communities. The pan soils also hold water in depressions, creating natural waterholes where water is available for much longer than the surrounding areas. The water and minerals, such as salt, and the nutritious grasses, attract many different animals to the pans, making them focal points for wildlife and people alike.

Although the fauna and flora of the Kalahari is not as diverse as in many other savannah regions, it hosts a large number of specially adapted species that are rare in other parts of Africa. This includes animals such as gemsbok (Oryx gazella), springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), and bat eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis), and trees such as the Camel thorn (Vachellia erioloba) and the Kalahari apple-leaf (Philenoptera nelsii). There are many special birds in the area too, including the world’s largest bird the ostrich (Struthio camelus) and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori), along with numerous birds of prey.

The largely undisturbed area is also home to many of Africa’s large predator species, including lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), caracal (Caracal caracal), and black backed jackal (Canis mesomelas).

The People of the San have been living in the Kalahari for at about 20 000 years. There are many tribes such as the Batshila, G//ana and Naro known collectively as San people. Until very recently (late 1980’s early 1990’s) they lived in small, nomadic family groups, surviving as hunter-gatherers. They are one of the only groups of people who have learnt to live with no surface water for much of the year.

Although most San people now live in towns and villages (such as Kaudwane) there are currently eight settlements of people still living inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. These people are attempting to live in the traditional way although with a few modern extras such as vehicles, some livestock (horses, donkeys and goats) and, in some cases, boreholes.