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The term is a generic locution for an area uninhabited by humanity (see 2.2.6 and note). Thus, the Creature's plan to seek "the vast wilds of South America" is compatible with this meaning.

Compare the OED:

1. An uninhabited and uncultivated tract of country; a wilderness: . . . b. formerly applied more widely to any wild, uninhabited region, including forest-land.
See also Johnson's definition from the Dictionary of 1755:

DESERT. n.s. [desertum, Latin.] A wilderness; solitude; waste country; uninhabited place.

Be alive again,
And dare me to the desert with thy sword.
Of trembling I inhibit; then protest me
The baby of a girl. Shakespeare's Macbeth.
He, looking round on every side, beheld
A pathless desert, dusk with horrid shades. Paradise Reg.