Karoo Desert

The Karoo is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa covering an area of 400,000 square kilometers. Its inland section, the Nama Karoo, has two main sub-regions – the Great Karoo in the north and the Little Karoo in the south. The western section is the Succulent Karoo, situated in a winter rainfall region near the Atlantic coast.

It covers two-thirds of South Africa and extends in places to 8,000 m below the land surface, constituting an immense volume of rocks which was formed geologically.

The Great Karoo has been a vast inland basin for most of the past 250 million years. At one stage the area was glaciated and the evidence for this is found in the widely-distributed Dwyka tillite. Later, at various times, there were great inland deltas, seas, lakes or swamps. Enormous deposits of coal formed and these are one of the pillars of the economy of South Africa today. Ancient reptiles and amphibians prospered in the wet forests and their remains have made the Karoo famous amongst palaeontologists. About 180 million years ago, volcanic activity took place on a titanic scale, which brought an end to a flourishing reptile evolution.

This area was explored by European settlers in the late 17th century, who encountered Khoisan people living in this rather dry area.


The following genera represent some of the extinct animals of the Karoo:

  • Mesosaurus, aquatic Dwyka carnivore
  • Bradysaurus, Beaufort Group herbivore
  • Diictodon, Permian mammal-like reptile
  • Rubidgea, Permian predator
  • Lystrosaurus, Triassic mammal-like herbivore
  • Thrinaxodon, Triassic mammal-like carnivore
  • Euparkeria, early dinosaur
  • Massospondylus, late Triassic to early Jurassic herbivorous, bipedal dinosaur
  • Megazostrodon, early mammal

Karoo fossils

The first Karoo fossils were discovered in 1838 by Scots-born Andrew Geddes Bain at a road cutting near Fort Beaufort. He sent his specimens to the British Museum, where fellow Scotsman Robert Broom recognised the Karoo fossils’ mammal-like characteristics in 1897.

Towns in Karoo

The main town of the region is Oudtshoorn. Other towns/settlements in the region include Ladismith, Calitzdorp, De Rust,and well-known mission stations such as Zoar, Amalienstein, Barrydale and Dysselsdorp.


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