The Kalahari Transfrontier Park, located in the southern Kgalagadi (or Kalahari) Desert, is home to the majestic black-maned African Lions, also known as the Kalahari lions. While it is common knowledge that many prides of lions roam throughout Africa, what is it that makes the lions of the Kalahari distinct from their counterparts across the rest of the continent? Let us find out!
If we were to survey the different landscapes and conditions within Africa’s highly biodiverse regions, we would find that wild animals have developed adaptations suited to the varying vegetation and climates in these regions. Kgalagadi Desert, for instance, is a land of extremes, apparent even in the meaning of the word Kgalagadi – a place of thirst. Temperatures can range from -15 degrees C to over 40 degrees C, and it requires supreme resilience and adaptability to survive and thrive in these harsh environs. This is true for all animals that call this place home, including large predators (such as the cheetah, hyenas, and lions) that live on the scorching surface as well as invertebrates and reptiles (such as the Cape Cobra) that seek the coolness of subterranean cavities and networks.

Black-maned Kalahari lion

The adaptations of the Kalahari lions are a prominent case in point. These lions can be distinguished from others in the rest of Africa in having lighter fur overall, longer legs, and larger paws – physiological traits that are also found in other mammals adapted to desert living. Male lions have sleek manes that can range from golden to inky black in colour, helping them camouflage better. Females are quite lean and muscular, a trait that enhances the endurance that they need to hunt in the desert.
Female Kalahari lions
Female Kalahari lions
The blistering desert heat is accompanied by a scarcity of water. Kalahari lions protect themselves against this potentially devastating heat and aridity by withstanding thirst better than their counterparts in more ‘moderate’ areas, such as South Africa’s game reserves. Research on the Kalahari lions has also found that they may become completely independent of water under severe conditions, drawing enough moisture from their prey’s blood and body fluids. Water loss through evaporation is further reduced by the long and leisurely rests in which these lions indulge.
Kalahari Desert
Prey is also scarce in the Kgalagadi Desert, and the Kalahari lions have adapted by forming smaller groups of up to six individuals, replacing larger prides of up to 30 lions found elsewhere. While this reduces competition among prides, it also makes cubs more vulnerable as lionesses must travel longer distances to find food. Mortality among the cubs is therefore quite high.

These unforgiving conditions mean that the Kalahari lions are more opportunistic and have been known to prey on anything available, from birds and small mammals to the large Eland, the world’s largest antelope. Despite its sharp and potentially lethal quills, the Cape Porcupine is also a favoured prey of the Kalahari lion. The highly sociable Meerkats, a small species of mongoose, may also be taken.
You should have good opportunities to view and photograph the regal black-maned lions of the Kalahari and several other fantastic creatures on the pre-tour extension to South Africa: Best of the Cape. Email us at to find out more.

South Africa: Best of the Cape
August 19 - September 1, 2023  |  Led by Justin Peter
Learn more here.