From open bushveld and flat plains to magnificent sand dunes rising out of a desolate and inhospitable coastline, Namibia will leave visitors awestruck by its stark beauty.
Its large number of parks and reserves are indicative of the country’s abundant wildlife and draws tourists from all over the world year after year. Of Namibia’s variety of fauna and flora, there are many species which are rare and endemic to the country.
Namibia is home to 240 species of mammals (14 of which are endemic), 20 species of antelope, 250 species of reptiles, 50 species of frogs and about 630 species of birds.
Big game, such as elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard and giraffe, exist in the country. Having the largest population of cheetah not contained in national parks in Southern Africa, one might even spot this speedy creature outside of a park or reserve.
Of the various antelope in Namibia, the Eland is the largest and the Damara dik-dik is the smallest. The latter is known for making a single, sharp whistle when disturbed and are found in flatter areas, away from rocky outcrops, alone or in pairs.
Other endangered animals found in Namibia include the blue whale, fin whale, Namib long-eared bat, wild dog and mountain zebra. Vulnerable animals in Namibia include the African elephant, Angolan hairy bat, black-footed cat, cheetah, Giant’s golden mole, short-eared elephant shrew, spotted-necked otter and springhare.
The mountain zebra lives primarily in the west and mountainous semi desert areas in Namibia. They have adapted to survive in conditions where there is limited food and water. Using their sharp eyes and sensitive hearing, mountain zebras are able to trot straight up a mountain slope for several kilometres without breaking.
The critically endangered Black Rhino can be found in Namibia. In Etosha National Park, Namibia’s most famous park, there are some 300 Black Rhino.
Etosha contains large herds of ‘plains game’, such as springbok, burchell’s zebra, gemsbok (appearing on Namibia’s coat of arms), blue wildebeest and smaller numbers of red hartebeest and mountain zebra. There are also predators, including lion, cheetah and leopard. Etosha’s elephant population fluctuates between 750 and 1500 as they migrate between Kaokoveld, Etosha and the Caprivi Strip.
Two other major tourist attractions for wildlife in Namibia is the Waterberg Plateau National Park, which was proclaimed for purposes of breeding and maintaining a population or rare and endangered animals like the Tsessebe, Roan and Sable antelope and buffalo, and the Cape Cross Reserve, where the seal colony is home to between 80 000 and 100 000 seals. Only one in four seal pups survive as they are targeted by lions, jackals and hyenas. The seals are the only source of nutrients for these desert-dwelling animals.While these types of animals are not necessarily considered unique in Africa, they are, however, unique for the way they have adapted to their harsh surroundings. This is also true of desert-adapted elephants and giraffes. The Namibian Desert is known for its large number of endemic dune dwellers, especially lizards, of which there are 30 endemic species.
Eight mammal species are endemic to Namibia, one being the black faced impala which are found in the heavily wooded Mopane forests of northern Namibia. The black faced impala looks similar to the common impala except it has a distinctive black stripe extending from the top of its head down to its nostrils and between the ears. Other mammals endemic to Namibia include several mice, gerbils and bats.
Namibia has a wealth of small mammals, including the mongoose, jackal and less common antbear and honey badger. Other unique mammals include wild dog, sable antelope, pangolins and desert dwelling moles.
Namibia also has a rich birdlife with some 620 native species. Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour lagoons are among the most important wet lands on the coast of Africa. Here, one can find 69% of the world’s population of the rare Chestnutbanded plover and Namibia’s famous flamingos. These graceful pink birds can also be seen at Etosha’s salt pans where there is a major breeding ground for flamingos.
Namibia is also home to a breeding colony of the vulnerable Jackass penguin as well as species of pelicans, coromorants, sandpipers, stints, plovers and the rare Caspian and Damara terns. The northernmost breeding colony of the endangered Cape Vultures in Southern Africa nests in the Waterberg Plateau National Park.
Raptors are common in the east, where there are some 35 species. There are several species of tropical birds found in the north east of Namibia. Rarer species include the Rufousbellied heron, Whitecrowned plover, Pel’s fishing owl and Wattled crane.
The wholly endemic Herero chat is found in north-west Namibia, the Cinderella waxbill is found along in the bush along the Kunene river and the Rupell’s parrot and Carp’s blacktit range further across the north.
These extraordinary birds and animals exist among some interesting fauna. Namibia has 14 vegetation zones which include desert vegetation, semi-desert, mopane, mountain, thorn bush, highland, dwarf shrub, camel thorn, mixed tree and shrub savannas, forest savannas and woodlands.
Namibia has 120 species of trees, 200 endemic plant species and 100 species of lichen. A desert plant which is a study of interest among botanists worldwide is the Welwitschia mirabilis, a living fossil endemic to the Namibian Desert and one of oldest plants known to man.
A country overflowing with unique natural beauty, one can easily understand why Namibia is such a popular tourist destination. Inhabited by such a range of animals, from the great and intimidating to the small and extraordinary, from the countless in number to those that are rare or endangered, visitors will enjoy one enchanting discovery to the next as they explore the various, remarkable environments Namibia has to offer.