Rising heat puts the Kalahari’s ecosystem on the edge of survival

On the parched savanna of southern Africa, searing temperatures and crippling droughts threaten a delicate balance of life.

For meerkats—a kind of mongoose—survival is a group effort. Sentries scan for danger, and lower-ranked adults, mostly females, feed and mind the senior female’s pups. It’s not clear how cli- mate change will affect meerkats here, but hotter, drier summers may reduce their numbers.

Twin silhouettes are motionless in the night. Above, a silver-veiled moon hints of a sky. Below, Earth is a darkened disk.

Sound gives the night depth: Common barking geckos rattle like castanets in receding waves into the shadows. The two women have been seated on a shallow dune for hours in hushed anticipation. One unfolds her legs, stretches, crosses them at the ankles. The other rocks, as if uttering a prayer mantra, limbering her muscles. Their radio-tracking gear drew them at sunset to this spot in the southern part of the Kalahari, which has long been called a desert but has characteristics of a dry savanna ecosystem.

Somewhere below them in a warren of burrows is a ground pangolin they’ve been monitoring for two months. She’s late to rouse—it’s 10 p.m.—which might have something to do with the day’s withering heat.

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