At first glance, much of the drier parts of Namibia seem devoid of life, more like Martian landscapes than anything earthly. Closer inspection however will reveal an astonishing array of smaller life forms even in the harshest depths of the Namib. Tenebrionid beetles abound, preyed on by the hardy Namaqua Chameleon. Lizards scuttle across the dunes, while at night Barking Geckos emerge from their burrows to fill the still night air with their clicks (in fact, with 125 species, Namibia is the richest country in Africa in terms of Lizards). Bigger animals such desert Elephants and Black Rhino also survive in some of the regions where hardy trees grow along dry river courses. On the coast millions of Cape Fur Seals thrive, with the pups and dead adults scavenged on by Black-backed Jackals, Brown Hyenas and even Lions. In Etosha, land of the blinding white salt pan, the wildlife viewing can be truly spectacular, especially in the dry season where water holes become the stage for dramatic scenes as herds gather to drink and predators lie in ambush. Indeed, Namibia is blessed with a spectacular range of wildlife, from the small desert dwellers to the typical African savannah species.
Namibia’s main wildlife region is Etosha National Park, a 22 270 square kilometer protected area based on the 4 760 square kilometer Etosha salt pan. Situated in the north of the country, Etosha’s origins date back to 1907 during the German colonial era, when it was known as Wildschutzgebiet Nr. 2, or simply ‘Game Reserve Number 2’. The name Etosha comes from the Oshindonga word meaning Great White Place, a phrase one will understand when beholding the vast salt pan under the mid-day sun. There are three government-run rest camps within the park, as well as several private camps on conservancies scattered around the perimeter of the park. It’s is a popular destination, and most tourists visiting Namibia will pass through Etosha.
South-west of Etosha lies the Damaraland region, which abuts the Skeleton Coast Park. This is an extreme environment, where survival depends on either being independent of water, or being able to access life-giving moisture in whatever way possible. Much of the region’s water comes in the form of mists rolling in all the way from the Atlantic Ocean, while the one or two yearly rain storms are often strong enough to create flash flows down the usually dry river courses. An amazing variety of wildlife can be found here, including desert Elephants, Black Rhino, Gemsbok, Hartman’s Mountain Zebra, Southern Giraffe and even Lion, Cheetah and Brown Hyena. Along the Skeleton coast there are Cape Fur Seal colonies, most notable being the Cape Cross colony which can number up to a quarter of a million individuals, providing an impressive if aromatic spectacle.
A stop at Waterberg Plateau National Park, which encompasses a prominent red sandstone plateau rising up above the surrounding plains, should deliver interesting smaller mammals such as the tiny Damara Dik-Dik, Rock Hyrax and Klipspringer. In the 1970’s rare species such as Black Rhino and Roan Antelope were introduced into the inaccessible plateau area to protect them from poachers and are still present today, but only occur on the top of the plateau and are thus seldom seen.
While Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are well-known birding areas, the seemingly lifeless dunes along the coast are home to an amazing variety of smaller life forms such as insects, spiders and reptiles. These include a range of Tenebrionid beetles, such as the Darkling Beetles, which ‘swim’ into the sand to escape predators, the battle tank-like Armoured Ground Cricket, the Granulated Thick-tailed Scorpion, Southern Africa’s most venomous Scorpion, and the Wheel Spider, which escapes predators by folding up into a ball and cart wheeling down the dune face. Interesting reptiles of the Namib include Péringuey’s Adder, which is confined to Namibia and Southern Angola, the roust Namaqua Chameleon, the sand-diving Wedge-snouted Lizard, and the Namib Dune Gecko, which derives some of its moisture from licking condensed fog from its eyes and body. Some of the other life forms of the Namib are equally interesting. The famous Welwitschia is a hardy plant endemic to the Namib Desert. It belongs to the cone-bearing gymnosperms, but also shares characteristics of the angiosperms, or flowering plants. Carbon 14 dating puts some plants at over a thousand years old and, as they only grow two leaves, the leaves themselves must be of a corresponding age. Some of the gravel plains of the coastal Namib are covered in Lichens, creating vast Lichen fields comprising several hundred species, many of which are endemic. The Lichens seem to change colour as the morning fog moves through, brightening up with the moisture and drying out as the fog dissipates.
One of Namibia’s most iconic sites are Sossusvlei and Dead Man’s Vlei, located within the Namib Naukluft Park, where the dead trees standing against the massive red sand dunes form one of the country’s most photographed scenes. All in all, Namibia holds a fascinating array of fauna and flora and will be an unforgettable destination for the nature enthusiast.