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Namibia is soul-stirring. Here on the southwest edge of Africa, orange sand dunes rise a thousand feet high against a cobalt sky. The coastal desert is washed by the relentless ocean, while inland the sun bakes the plains into a cracked puzzle of dried mud, pocked with grass and thorn bush. There is water here, though its presence is subtle. It is the source of life in the stark salt pans, whose waterholes attract fantastic numbers of wildlife, including rare rhinos and feline predators. Springbok, oryx, kudu and dik-dik run to elude them, in a wild and ancient desert dance.
Read About the Different Regions and Parks in Namibia
Our Expert Says
Namibia is a world of extremes in both scenery and wildlife. Walking over the dunes of the Namib Desert at sunrise makes me feel as though I am immersed in an ancient land. I have never seen a sky so blue, and the contrast with the deep-orange dunes makes for some incredible photographic opportunities. Wildlife in Namibia is unique, as adaptations to harsh, arid conditions are often necessary. All the people that I met, from local guides to camp staff, were so helpful and knowledgeable. The personal contact added a special dimension to an incredible wildlife safari.
– Andrea Reynolds
From parks teeming with wildlife to the profound silence of the desert, Namibia offers unsurpassed drama. For such a dry country, Namibia’s landscapes are filled with surprising contrasts. Southern right whales swim off the Skeleton Coast, where shipwrecks lie like piles of bones. Inland, the stunning sand dunes at Sossusvlei glow blood-red in the setting sun. Remarkably, these dunes are home to a host of desert-adapted species seen on walks and drives in the area. Namibia’s premier animal encounters, however, happen in Etosha National Park. This ancient lakebed, a bare salt pan with perennial springs, draws prolific wildlife. Giraffe, lion, cheetah, zebra and rhino are regularly observed on day and night game drives. In the rocky wilderness of Damaraland, where the stark desert is cooled by drifting coastal mists, track desert elephants and look for ostrich. At Okonjima, support AfriCat’s conservation work as you observe large carnivores hunting in their natural habitat.
Despite its rugged, harsh terrain, wildlife has managed to thrive in Namibia. In both variety and abundance, the number of animals in this otherworldly environment is amazing. From African icons such as lion, elephant and giraffe to smaller hoofed game including many endemics like the black-faced impala, Namibia’s wealth of wildlife is a testament to the ability to adapt. Just a few of the species that live among the sand dunes in the Namib Desert are springbok, gemsbok, ostrich, bat-eared fox and aardwolf. Myriad more frequent the great Etosha salt pan, including rare desert-adapted black rhino, white rhino, cheetah, leopard, wildebeest and hartebeest. In the private million-acre Palmwag Concession, look for desert-adapted elephants, endemic Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe, oryx, and greater kudu. Namibia’s second-largest predator population also thrives here, with more than 100 lion, cheetah, leopard and hyena. Namibia’s birdlife is abundant, with ostrich, raptors and various southern African endemics.
Covering more than 318,000 square miles, Namibia is immense even by African standards. Situated on the southwest coast of Africa, Namibia borders the Atlantic Ocean, Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, and South Africa on the south. Yet its vast expanse is home to just 2.2 million people, a collage of 11 major ethnic groups. At one time part of the German colony of South-West Africa, later administered by South Africa, Namibia gained independence in 1990. Today it is a multi-party democracy. Its capital and major city, Windhoek, lies in the center of the country and is home to approximately 350,000. About 38% of Namibia’s residents are urbanized. Namibia’s economy is heavily dependent on the extraction and processing of minerals, particularly diamonds, zinc, copper and uranium. Mining accounts for 8% of GDP yet employs just 3% of the population. About 40% are employed in subsistence agriculture.
In protecting natural resources, Namibia leads the way. A strong commitment to conservation and a well-managed network of parks and conservancies has laid the groundwork for a sustainable future for Namibia’s wildlife. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government has reinforced this by giving communities the opportunity to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. Prior to independence, wildlife populations in Namibia had plummeted as a result of prolonged military occupation, extensive poaching and a severe drought. In the mid-1980s this situation began to reverse through the introduction of an innovative program to inspire community stewardship of wildlife. With the support of WWF, the conservancy movement has engaged more than 220,000 community members in the creation of 52 conservancies covering 30 million acres of prime wildlife habitat. Elsewhere, large private reserves steward land that complements the conservation role of Namibia’s national parks.