Affectionately known as “The Land of Open Spaces”, Namibia is distinguished by its incredible array of formidable landscapes and extreme contrasts whereby 90% of its land is occupied by natural habitat. From the soaring ancient desert dunes of Sossussvlei and iconic monolithic rockscapes of Spitzkoppe, to the endless horizons of its savannahs and eerie windswept skeleton coastline, it is home to one of the world’s most hostile environments. However, despite its harsh conditions, Namibia does in actual fact possess a rich and diverse animal kingdom making wildlife viewing here one of the most attractive across the African continent.
With over 200 mammal species, 600 species of birds and what is supposedly an ever increasing wildlife population, it’s a wildlife enthusiast’s dream! With conservation incorporated into its constitution, a movement ingrained into communities and with over 40% of land specifically dedicated to wildlife conservation, it does mean wildlife may never really be too far away!
From a flamboyance of dainty flamingos to the heavy herds of elephants, we take a look at some of Namibia’s most captivating animal encounters.
Etosha National Park
Safe to say Etosha National Park is without question one of the planet’s great wildlife reserves. With an area of approximately 22,000 square kilometres, Namibia’s flagship reserve offers some extraordinary wildlife prospects and can quite simply be defined as paradise to even the most jaded animal lover. Whether it be during the wettest days of summer or the driest of winter, you will always be in for a treat.
Loosely translated from the Ovambo language as the “Great White Place”, the heart of Etosha lies in the vast desolate Etosha Pan, an iridescent white saline plane which for the majority of the year sits bone dry with the salt residue shimmering in the scorching sun. On the seldom occasion, during the rainy season, it does however briefly flood creating a shallow lagoon teeming with flamingos and countless numbers of other birdlife. Covering up to a quarter of the park’s area and stretching well beyond any distances visible to the naked eye, this barren expanse of land, which is visible from space, is without a doubt Etosha National Park’s most dramatic feature.
With the Etosha Pan no longer the reliable source of water that it is assumed to have once been, the abundance of wildlife is today dependant on the numerous water holes dispersed throughout the park. Considering Namibia’s harsh environment, especially during the dry season, it is this unique network of the park’s natural springs and artificial perennial water sources where the fascination lies. Impeccably maintained and extremely well connected, the layout of the park presents the perfect opportunity for seamless self-drive safaris and the unique occasion whereby access to these waterholes allows for the wildlife to come to you. Whether it be early morning, late afternoon or even at night (for those staying at one of Etosha’s camps) it is incomprehensible as to the enormity of wildlife congregations that visit just a single one of these waterholes.
Home to 114 species of mammals and 340 species of birds, this wildlife haven offers the chance to witness the harmonious interaction between the masses of zebra, springbok and wildebeest amongst the elegance of giraffes and elephants. With the feline population sizes in your favour, sightings of lions and cheetahs are also not uncommon.
Along with offering such an unbelievable wildlife spectacle, the park has also built its own conservation success story whereby it has provided a refuge for endangered species such as the black rhino and black faced Impala. It is no secret that Southern Africa faces a horrifying problem when it comes to Rhino poaching, however Etosha does offer a glimmer of hope as it is home to one of the largest and most stable black rhino populations on the planet. With all things considered, we hope you can start to understand the charm of a Namibian safari and why the Etosha National Park is so adored!
Renowned for having one of the largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals on the planet, Cape Cross is home to around 100,000 of these curious and playful mammals. Endemic to Southern Africa, this thriving population congregates on the rocky shoreline taking advantage of the rich concentrations of fish in the Benguela current of the chilly Atlantic Ocean.
Covering almost every square metre of the secluded beach, you will soon be consumed in the captivating interactions throughout the colony. The combination of their clumsy tussles on land and their frolicking in the pounding surf could keep you entertained for hours. As a breeding colony, amongst the boisterous adults are the many young pups which are without a doubt the most endearing. Whether it be watching them play with other pups in the shallow waters or frantically cry out to theirs mothers amongst the masses, it is all pretty loveable to watch. Unlike many other wildlife encounters, here you will get pretty close as even the expansive designated walkways and makeshift carpark seems to be have become a great place for the locals to hang out.
Along with such an unbelievable spectacle does come its unforgiving smell to contend with. I guess it should not come as much of a surprise considering the size of population, but do be prepared to have the winds ensure you leave with a lasting memory of such a pungent aroma.
At almost the midway point up along the Namibian coastline and a mere 160km from Cape Cross, you will find another of the country’s most affluent wildlife locations. Positioned right on the edge of an expansive Lagoon, the coastal town of Walvis Bay is a major birding hotspot. With the majority of Namibia’s coastline exposed to the harsh conditions, the sheltered, shallow, nutrient rich waters of the Walvis Bay lagoon are considered to be one of the most important coastal wetlands in the region. Attracting one of the largest populations of flamingos across Southern Africa and appealing to a congregation of over 100,000 migratory birds during the summer months, it will most certainly impress even the most demanding of enthusiasts. With the majority of the gathering made up of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, the newly constructed esplanade provides for the ideal vantage point to admire these delicate birds as they march through the waters, moving together in synchronised wave like formations. In addition to this coastal lagoon, the neighbouring salt works facility is also a popular feeding ground and an alternative option when searching for the perfect captures.
Okonjima Nature Reserve
Approximately 200 kilometres South of Etosha National Park and on route either to or from Windhoek, is the Okonjima Nature Reserve. Home to the AfriCat foundation, it is a prime example of Namibia’s fantastic conservation efforts. As most of us know, conflict between local communities and wildlife is the biggest threat to healthy wildlife populations, which is why continual conservation through education and awareness is paramount. At Okanjima, Africat is committed to the research, education and conservation activity for Namibia’s large carnivores and it is here you can get the opportunity to learn about these animals whilst getting one last opportunity to view these majestic predators. Game drives and guided bush walks take you across the protected undulating plains and sporadic mountainous outcrops, amongst some of the country’s most PAWSOME wildlife. I hope you see what I did there!
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” Sir David Attenborough