In Part II of our Southern African Biome series, African Budget Safaris takes a look at what to expect from Namibia and Botswana.
What is a Biome?
Plainly put, a biome is what makes up the environment of a particular place. It is the community of plant and animal life that makes up a major habitat like jungle or tundra. It is also the balance of this habitat that determines the animal species and relative abundance and scarcity. A biome rich in grass, for example, has the potential to support huge numbers of game as seen in Tanzania and Kenya whereas a habitat like the deserts of the Kalahari will support fewer species.
So what makes up the major biomes in Southern Africa and what should you expect to see where?
“Namib” means open space. Renowned for its diamonds, desert landscapes and the Skeleton Coast, Namibia is a place of open spaces and stark beauty. Strangely enough, Namibia’s most prevalent biome is savannah with 60% of land falling into this category. While savannah dominates the central and northern highlands as well as all of the Namibian Kalahari, it is the desert biome that Namibia is famous for.
Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib Desert is a place of red sand, white salt pans and blue skies. Namib-Naukluft National Park, at over 49 000 km2, is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. It is made up of the Naukluft Mountains in the eastern part of the park and the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world.
The desert biome of the Namib receives less than a centimetre of rain a year. However, despite the low rainfall, being a coastal desert wind blows in from the cold Atlantic forming dense fog banks. This fog provides moisture for a surprising number of plants and animals and the desert is alive with desert-adapted plants the most famous being the welwitschia, antelope like oryx and springbok, desert elephants, lions and a plethora of beetles, bugs, geckos, lizards, snakes and rodents.
The standout feature, however, is the red-oxidising dunes. According to geologists the red colour of the dunes is a result of oxidising iron and the older the dunes, the redder they will be. In addition to their age, the red dunes of the Namib are some of the largest dunes in the world. When viewed against the blonde grasses, blue skies, white pans and black rocks, the Namib is an unforgettable feast for the senses.
The most popular of the many and unforgettable destinations are Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and Sessriem.
Etosha National Park
Etosha derives its name from the Oshindonga word meaning “Great White Place” and refers to the Etosha pan that, at 23% of the park area, falls almost entirely within the park's borders. It is a salt pan that fills with water briefly in the rainy season but for the rest of the year is a stark white expanse. The salinity means that there are few permanent residents on the pan itself.
The biome that surrounds the pan and that makes up the rest of the park is categorised as (mini drum-roll) you guessed it, savannah! There are degrees of mostly grassland immediately around the pan and woodland savannah. Mopane trees once again dominate and the grasses support a large variety of game making Etosha a spectacular game viewing destination.
One of the highlights of any safari to Etosha is the floodlit watering holes that you can sit and watch at night.
The Zambezi corridor, formerly known as Caprivi or the Caprivi Strip is a long, narrow panhandle extending north-east from Namibia, that separates Angola (to the north), Botswana (to the south), and ends near the south-western corner of Zambia. This narrow stretch of land is a tropical wet stretch of land unique with its four perennial rivers (Zambezi, Kwando, Chobe and Linyanti) and four National Parks (Mamili, Mudumu, Mahango and Bwabwata).
The vegetation is a mixture of riverine forest, teak forest, acacia fringe woodland on the edge of the drainage lines and open grassland. When coupled with the abundant supply of water this means that Caprivi is game-rich. The region has recorded over 600 bird species and you can expect to see four of the Big Five, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard as well as African wild dog, sable, roan, giraffe, zebra, kudu and much, much more.
Botswana boasts some of the most well preserved and best wild game viewing in Africa. The two most distinct biomes are the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta.
The Kalahari Desert is a large semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa which extends some 900,000 km². The Kalahari covers much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. Semi-desert means that the Kalahari does receive seasonal rainfall and so can support more life than a true desert. It offers huge tracts of excellent grazing after good rains and so attracts large grazing herds. In addition to this, the Kalahari has ground cover in the forms of scrub and trees like the acacia and mopane.
Visiting the Kalahari you may see lion, leopard, cheetah and African painted wolves as well as the antelope that they prey on, giraffe, wildebeest and springbok to mention only a few. There is also a variety of bird species included flamingos in their tens of thousands when they visit the pans in the rainy season.
The water that floods the Okavango Delta every year begins its journey in the Angolan Highlands. The water flows through Namibia and then into Botswana where it drains into a shallow depression in the Kalahari Desert. This ‘inland delta’ is more accurately called an alluvial fan. Processes from geological activity and plant growth to the activity of creatures as small as termites and as large as hippos and elephants mean that the channels and rivulets are constantly changing.
The Okavango has been described as a great river that drains, not into the sea but into the desert and comprises areas that are permanently flooded as well as those that are submerged only seasonally. These variations mean that there are two distinct areas of the Delta – seasonal swamp that floods in winter and then dries as summer progresses and the permanent swamp that holds water and so supports life year round.
The distinction between the permanent and seasonal areas creates distinct biomes. The flora of the permanent swamp includes papyrus reed beds, wild date palms and islands fringed with forest as well as lagoons covered with floating water lilies. The seasonal swamp areas, on the other hand, are made up of open floodplains that are covered with grasses in the summer and flood during the winter months. These floodplains are fringed by tall and elegant palms, sausage trees, fig trees and a variety of scrub vegetation.
On your visit to the Delta, you will travel in traditional canoes carved from the trunk of a tree, called mokoros. You will pilot your way through reed beds and over lagoons in search of wildlife, hippos, elephants and the water-adapted antelope the lechwe.
Southern African Safari
Southern Africa is huge. It stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and has everything from fynbos and forests to desert plains and mountain summits. Including more than ten countries and countless ethnic groups, cultures and languages, Southern Africa is rich in diversity of every kind. No matter where you go there is something unexpected and spectacular. It is a destination that will take you a lifetime to see, and always leave you coming back for more, one safari at a time. In Part III of this series, we look north to the Serengeti, MasaiMara and beyond.