Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Deserts are among the hottest and driest places on earth.  Although it may not rain for several years, some plants, animals and even people manage to live and survive in deserts.

Some deserts are covered in sand, but many are made of mountains, bare rocks, boulders or gravel.  Huge mounds of sand, called sand-dunes, cover some parts of deserts and these may reach hundreds of metres tall and possibly kilometres long!  Sand dunes are always changing shape and position in a desert as the wind blows the light, dry sand around.

Desert, Photo (c) Pablo Pecora

In other parts of the desert, near water sources, fertile areas of land called ‘oases’ may develop. Oases can support many species of plantlife because more water is available.

Most deserts are hot during the day and cold during the night. Deserts receive on average less than 25cm of rain per year. They may not receive any rain for several years.

The temperature in deserts varies according to the time of year. In winter, the temperature ranges between 10oC and 20oC and in the summer can be as hot as 38oC.  At night, deserts become very cold with temperatures dropping as soon as the sun sets.  This is because there are no clouds in the sky above deserts to help reflect the heat back towards the desert.


Deserts cover nearly 15% of the earth’s land surface.  The Sahara Desert in Africa is the biggest desert in the world and covers 9,000,000 sq km.  That’s nearly the total area of the USA!  Other large deserts include the Gobi desert in China and Mongolia, the Australian desert, the Arabian desert and the Kalahari desert in South Africa.



People have survived in a natural desert habitat for thousands of years. The lack of water and extreme heat has meant they have adapted a travelling lifestyle in search of resources, and allowed the desert to recover. But, today many more people live in desert habitats created through overuse of grasslands.  The few trees that could survive in the climate have been cut down for firewood and cattle have over-grazed the land. Without the trees and grass the soil is exposed and in such dry conditions; a once fertile land becomes a dust bowl.  Nature is not always able to keep up with human activity.

These types of deserts are growing and replacing grasslands.

Deserts can provide good sources of oil, gold, diamonds and other minerals, but mining can destroy vast areas of the desert.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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