The name Kalahari is derived from the Tswana language; kgala means ‘the great thirst’, and kgalagadi means ‘a waterless place’. The Kalahari is a place of extremes. The summer sun beats down on the vivid orange dotted with camel-thorn trees and grasses at temperatures as high as 46°C, while freezing winter nights can drop below -12°C. Rainfall is so erratic that in some years it receives very little while in others it is drenched. Quickly absorbed by the sand, the rain gives life to an abundance of edible grasses, shrubs and trees that in good seasons cover the landscape in a multicoloured patchwork of pale gold grasses and vibrant flowering plants.
Surviving here requires finely tuned physiological and behavioural adaptations, honed over millions of years of evolution. Plants and animals have become savannah specialists, and the area is highly biodiverse and home to many unique species. There are 85 mammal (including aardvark, black rhino, and pangolin) and over 264 bird species at Tswalu, as well as many varieties of reptiles, insects, and butterflies.
The Kalahari is regarded as one of Africa’s last wilderness areas and one of the largest relatively undisturbed arid savannas in Africa.
Tswalu means ‘a new beginning’ in Tswana, capturing the Oppenheimers’ vision to ‘restore the Kalahari to itself’. Research at Tswalu is guided by the Tswalu Foundation, spurred on by the need to generate targeted, tangible research to inform sustainable conservation decisions on the reserve.
The Foundation actively encourages applied research that in turn can lead to best practice for ecological management. Research projects fall under at least one of three core themes – Conservation Biology, Climate Change and Anthropogenic Factors.
Current research topics at Tswalu include meerkat habituation, cape cobra thermal ecology, sociable weavers, pangolin ecology and physiology, butterfly and vegetation monitoring, tourism management and predator-prey relationships. The Kalahari Endangered Ecosystem Project (KEEP) operates at Tswalu, with a specific interest in examining the effects of climate change on the Kalahari at different trophic levels. As the ancestral home of the San people, the Kalahari is a site of significant cultural heritage; stone tools, petroglyphs, and cupules are the bedrock of archaeological research at Tswalu.
Artist in Residence Programme
The Tswalu Foundation Artist in Residence Programme (AiR) invites an artist for a three to six months stay at Tswalu in the Dedeben Research Centre and depict the Kalahari landscape through their craft. Artist selection is led by Mark Read and the team at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.
Find out more about the Tswalu Foundation at tswalu.com.
Landscape: Semi-arid savanna
Key research areas: Climate change, animal physiology, archaeology, predator-prey relationships, tourism.
Researcher accommodation: On-site for up to 21 researchers at the Dedeben Research Centre.
Lab facilities: Small laboratory with microscope.
Contact: Dylan Smith, Dylan@tswalufoundation.org