Derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning "the great thirst", or Kgalagadi, meaning "a waterless place", the Kalahari has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent surface water. Drainage is by dry valleys, seasonally inundated pans, and the large salt pans of the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana and Etosha Pan in Namibia. The only permanent river, the Okavango, flows into a delta in the northwest, forming marshes that are rich in wildlife. Ancient dry riverbeds - called omuramba - traverse the central northern reaches of the Kalahari and provide standing pools of water during the rainy season. A semi-desert, with huge tracts of excellent grazing after good rains, the Kalahari supports more animals and plants than a true desert, such as the Namib Desert to the west. There are small amounts of rainfall and the summer temperature is very high. The driest areas usually receive 110-200 millimetres of rain per year, and the wettest just a little over 500 millimetres. The surrounding Kalahari Basin covers over 2,500,000 square kilometres extending further into Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, and encroaching into parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Kalahari is home to many migratory birds and animals. Previously havens for wild animals from elephants to giraffes, and for predators such as lions and cheetahs, the riverbeds are now mostly grazing spots, though leopards and cheetahs can still be found. The area is now heavily grazed and cattle fences restrict the movement of wildlife. Among deserts of the Southern Hemisphere, the Kalahari most closely resembles some Australian deserts in its latitude and its mode of formation. The Kalahari Desert came into existence approximately sixty million years ago along with the formation of the African continent.
North and east, approximately where the dry forests, savannahs and salt lakes prevail, the climate is sub-humid rather than semi-arid. South and west, where the vegetation is predominantly xeric savanna or even a semi-desert, the climate is "Kalaharian" semi-arid. The Kalaharian climate is subtropical (average annual temperature greater than or equal to 18 °C, with mean monthly temperature of the coldest month strictly below 18 °C), and is semi-arid with the dry season during the "cold" season, the coldest six months of the year. It is the southern tropical equivalent of the Sahelian climate. The altitude has been adduced as the explanation why the Kalaharian climate is not tropical; its altitude ranges from 600 to 1,600 meters (and generally from 800 to 1,200 metres), resulting in a cooler climate than that of the Sahel or Sahara. For example, winter frost is common from June to August, something rarely seen in the warmer Sahelian regions. For the same reason, summer temperatures certainly can be very hot, but not in comparison to regions of low altitude in the Sahel or Sahara, where some stations record average temperatures of the warmest month around 38 °C, whereas the average temperature of the warmest month in any region in the Kalahari never exceeds 29 °C, though daily temperatures occasionally reach up to close to 45 °C (44.8 °C at Twee Rivieren Rest Camp in 2012).
As in the Sahel, the wet season in the Kalahari is during the six coldest months of the year.
The dry season lasts eight months or more, and the wet season typically from less than one month to four months, depending on location. The southwestern Kalahari is the driest area, in particular a small region located towards the west-southwest of Tsaraxaibis (Southeast of Namibia). The average annual rainfall ranging from around 110 mm (close to aridity) to more than 500 mm in some areas of the north and east. In the driest and sunniest parts of the Kalahari, over 4,000 hours of sunshine are recorded annually on average.
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