Kgalagadi means place of thirst. The park is located largely within the southern Kalahari Desert. The terrain consists of red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, occasional trees, and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob rivers. The rivers are said to flow only about once per century. However, water flows underground and provides life for grass and camelthorn trees growing in the river beds.
The rivers may flow briefly after large thunderstorms, a cause for celebration among the wildlife, who will flock to the river beds and slake their eternal thirst. The park has abundant, varied wildlife. It is home to large mammalian predators such as black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. Migratory herds of large herbivores such as blue wildebeest, Springbok, eland, and red hartebeest also live and move seasonally within the park, providing sustenance for the predators. More than 200 species of bird can be found in the park, including vultures and raptors such as eagles, buzzards, and secretary birds.