The Deserts of Africa
Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent (30.2 million sq kilometers or 11.7 million sq miles), ranking second to Asia (44.4 million kilometers or 17.1 million sq miles) and larger than North America (24.2 sq kilometers or 9.4 sq miles). Accompanying its enormous size, Africa is home to the world’s largest desert, the Sahara, as well as the Namib and the Kalahari. Each is incredibly diverse and vast covering a majority of Africa. With their alluring beauty, yet sometimes harsh environments, these regions of the continent offer a fascinating environmental and cultural history dating back millions of years.
The Namib Desert
The sand dunes of the Namib Desert are the highest dunes on Earth. While the Sahara is the largest desert in the world, the Namib is the oldest desert, having survived at least 80 million years. In the Nama language, Namib means “vast,” and this is no exaggeration. At 50,000 kilometers, the Namib-Naukluft Park is the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in the world.
Wind blows the thirsty Namib Desert sand into sharp ridges. Amazingly there are animals, insects and plants that reside in this beautiful, yet mostly inhospitable region of the world. One of its most unusual inhabitants, the Welwitschia, is a shrub-like plant that grows just two long, strap-shaped leaves continuously throughout its lifetime. It is believed that they are very long-lived, possibly living 1000 years or more. Some individuals may be more than 2000 years old.
The Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest desert and is approximately 3,500,000 square miles or 9,065,000 square kilometers. Its terrain features mountains, rocky areas, gravel plains, salt flats and massive sand dunes. This desert is ever changing at unbelievable levels, forever shrinking and growing in total size. The Sahara was a common trade route for hundreds of years, caravans traveled through spending days and weeks traversing the immense landscape. The Trans-Saharan Trade Route existed from prehistoric time with the peak of trade extended from the 8th century until the late 16th century. Several desert oases here enabled the possibility of commerce between the ports of North African and the southern Savannah markets.
The Sahara is home to around 4 million people or so that live in the Sahara, mostly in Mauritania (over 3.3 million people), Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. There is a diverse mix of wildlife, include gerbils, jerboas, cape hares, desert hedgehogs, barbary sheep, oryxes, gazelles, deer, wild asses, baboons, hyenas, jackals, sand foxes, weasels and mongooses. There also a vast and diverse array of birds of more than 300 species.
The Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari Desert is a true geological wonder and is part of the gigantic sand basin in Southern Africa stretching from the Orange River up to Angola in the west to Namibia and in the east to Zimbabwe. The Kalahari’s impressive sand masses of wind-shaped sand were formed by the erosion of soft stone formations that are so common in the Kalahari landscape.
Because of vegetation in the area of the Kalahari, the sand dunes were stabilized 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Its resiliant grasses, thorny shrubs and acacia trees can survive long periods of drought of enduring more than 10 months a year.
Some researchers and scientists don’t consider the Kalahari a true desert because some parts of the Kalahari received more than 10 inches of rain a year. Wildlife in this region of Africa include lions, brown hyenas, meerkats (shown above), antelopes, and a variety of birds and reptiles.
To discover more about safaris to these amazing geological wonders, please contact an Expert Safari Planner at 800-995-8989, or download our featured Namibia safari below.
The first version of this article was posted on Jul 21, 2014 at 1:56 PM.