Shannon Wild Africa Namibia - oryx at sunset

Changing your perception of desert safaris

Hannah Champion

Hannah Champion

19 Sep 2016




noun: desert; plural noun: deserts
1a waterless, desolate area of land with little or no vegetation, typically one covered with sand.
wasteland, waste, wilderness, wilds, dust bowl, barren land

2. a situation or place considered dull and uninteresting.
uninteresting place/period, unproductive place/period, wasteland

Teeming with Unique Wildlife

The harsh and unrelenting landscapes of the world's deserts may bring to mind the idea of desolation and emptiness, however, you may be surprised to learn that these regions can often be teeming with wildlife. From desert-adapted elephants and tiny geckos, to black-maned lions and rare snakes, our desert safaris give you the opportunity to witness unique species in breath-taking surroundings around the globe.

Namibia safaris; gecko

Africa's Deserts

The rolling red dunes of Namibia's Sesriem and Sossusvlei region are perhaps the highest and most famed desert landscapes in the world. These huge dunes are astounding in colour and are best-viewed through a combination of hot-air balloon flights and walking safaris. Flying over this epic landscape gives you a real sense of perspective and then getting back to nature on foot allows you to discover the smaller wildlife and plants. 

The majority of the wildlife here depends on moisture from the sea mist as there is hardly any rainfall to provide them with adequate water supplies. Although there are fewer big game species in the inner Namib desert, there are numerous varieties of desert-adapted antelope which have developed to be extremely efficient at absorbing water, so much so that their urine is passed in dry pellet form!

Namibia safari by Shannon wild
Namibia safaris; sand dunes

South Africa and Botswana are home to some of the world's most remote lodges. With rustic accommodation and unique desert activities, these lodges offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences perfect for a secluded honeymoon safari or an off-the-beaten-track family trip.

Thanks to the remote locations of these lodges you are able to track desert-adapted wildlife on foot.The black rhinos in Tswalu Kalahari have adapted over generations to survive the harsh climate here. They are able to live in extreme temperatures (from sub-zero to 40C), their stomachs have evolved to digest what would normally be toxic substances and they are often active at night (unlike other African rhinos). 

Botswana's hyenas in the Makgadikgadi Pans have large home ranges enabling them to seek out water from a range of sources, and the zebra are able to extract useful nutrition from low-quality grass thanks to their adapted digestive system.

Perhaps one of the most sought-after wildlife sightings in the desert is the majestic Kalahari black-maned lion. Due to the arduous conditions of the Kalahari and the lack of prey, only the strongest survive which results in bigger lions than on the traditional African plains. This sub-species of lion have adapted to have more stamina and endurance and are able to survive up to two weeks without water. It is still unknown as to exactly why their manes are black, as it would seem to make more sense to have lighter manes in such a warm climate, however, it does make them look extremely impressive so is perhaps it is more a symbol of stature.

Black maned lion of the Kalahari, Botswana

Polar Deserts

Little do people know, the polar regions are actually classed as deserts thanks to their particularly low annual levels of precipitation. The vast vistas of both the Arctic and Antarctica stretch as far as the eye can see and although may first appear devoid of wildlife, when you look a little closer you will be amazed to discover a plethora of species. 

Due to the harsh climates, wildlife has evolved to survive year-round in these remote regions, from Arctic foxes that change their coat depending on the season to polar birds and seals that migrate around the islands.

Snowmobiling, Svalbard
Antarctica wildlife: king penguins

Chile And Beyond

Last but by no means least are the deserts of Latin America. Chile's Atacama Desert is the driest in the world and it is claimed that there are parts of the region where rainfall has never been recorded. This seems to be absolutely unfathomable - especially for those of us living in the UK! The dramatic landscape varies from striking ravines to snow-capped volcanoes and wildlife is surprisingly abundant with guanacos roaming the plains, viscachas in the undergrowth and condors soaring overhead. There are areas in the Atacama Desert that provide enough nutrients for plants and grasses to grow, using the melted snow as a water supply, and it is here that you will find the most wildlife.

Further north, the Nazca Desert in Peru is home to the unique geoglyphs, the Nazca Lines believed to have been created between 400 - 650AD. This cultural site is a true wonder to behold and is definitely worth adding to your Peru wildlife safari. 

Atacama Desert, Chile

Find our more about unique desert safaris

Get in touch with our Destination Specialists and they will help plan a once-in-a-lifetime desert wildlife safari through some of the world's most remote, yet pristine wildernesses.

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