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< BACKGeography - Environment - Botswana

Botswana is a land-locked country of 581 730 sq km bordered by Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and at the extreme North Eastern tip by Zambia. The country sits on the Great African Plateau and the landscape is mostly flat or gently undulating at an average altitude of 900m. Botswana's underlying rock formations are some of the oldest in the world with the granite gneisses in the east being formed around 3500 million years ago. Deposits of copper and nickel are present as well as small amounts of gold, manganese, iron ore and coal. Also present are the extensive diamond reserves on which the countries' wealth is founded.

The climate in Botswana is continental tropical with rainfall across the country averaging out at 475mm per annum. Approximately 90% of the country is classed as savannah and the dominant soil type is Kalahari sand.

The Kalahari Desert itself dominates the south and west, although with an average of 250mm rain per annum it is less a true desert and more a savannah grassland. The little rain that falls in Botswana arrives in the summer months of October to April, usually as tropical thunderstorms, the cloud generally building in the early afternoon and the rain falling as a steady curtain a few hours later. The importance of water to Botswana is obvious - the local Tswana name of the currency - "Pula" - means rain!

The vegetation across the country varies considerably from acacia dominant savannah in the south and central regions to Mopane, silver leaf and Zimbabwean teak in the north and marula and baobab on the salt pans. The Okavango Delta offers a stark contrast to the Kalahari with lush green swathes of papyrus and towering palm trees. There are around 200 desert species in Botswana which have been classified as edible and these include plants such as the Tsamma melon and the wild cucumber which store significant amounts of water within their tissues.

These plants sustain a wide variety of animals in the Kalahari area including springbok, hartebeest, gemsbok, eland and many smaller species. The plants are also sought by the San Bushmen who still live in small numbers in the Kalahari area.

There are two main river systems feeding Botswana, one is the Okavango and the other the Chobe river. The Okavango River starts life as the Kubango where its headwaters are swollen each rainy season in the highlands of Angola. It then flows south eastward through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia and into Botswana where it becomes the Okavango and spreads slowly across the delta area creating a unique wilderness of channels, islands and lagoons in the midst of the dry Kalahari.

The Chobe River also begins life in Angola, as the Kwando River before flowing into the Caprivi Strip and Eastwards across the northern edge of the Chobe National Park to become the Linyanti and then the Chobe before it joins the Zambezi on its way towards Zimbabwe.

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