The Makgadikgadi Pan

The Makgadikgadi Pan is a salt pan situated in the middle of the dry savanna of north-eastern Botswana, is one of the largest salt flats in the world. The pan is all that remains of the formerly enormous Lake Makgadikgadi, which once covered an area larger than Switzerland, but dried up tens of thousands of years ago. Recent studies of human mitochondrial DNA suggest that modern Homo sapiens first began to evolve in this region some 200,000 years ago, when it was a vast, exceptionally fertile area of lakes, rivers, marshes, woodlands and grasslands especially favorable for habitation by evolving hominins and other mammals.

The pans themselves are salty desert whose only plant life is a thin layer of blue-green algae. However the fringes of the pan are salt marshes and further out these are circled by grassland and then shrubby savanna. The prominent baobab trees found in the area function as local landmarks. One of them, named after James Chapman, served as an unofficial post office for 19th-century explorers.

Very little wildlife can exist here during the harsh dry season of strong hot winds and only salt water, but following a rain the pan becomes an important habitat for migrating animals including wildebeest and one of Africa’s biggest zebra populations, and the large predators that prey on them. The wet season also brings migratory birds such as ducks, geese and great white pelicans. The pan is home of one of only two breeding populations of greater flamingos in southern Africa, and only on the Soa pan, which is part of the Makgadikgadi pans. The other breeding population is at Etosha, in the Northern part of Namibia. The only birds here in the dry season are ostriches, chestnut-banded plover (Charadrius pallidus) and Kittlitz’s plover (Charadrius pecuarius). The grasslands on the fringes of the pan are home to reptiles such as tortoises, rock monitor (Varanus albigularis), snakes and lizards including the endemic Makgadikgadi spiny agama (Agama hispida makgadikgadiensis). The region’s salt water is home to the cladoceran crustacean Moina belli.

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