Namibia’s largest and best-known wildlife park is Etosha. Its name means ‘Place of Mirages’, for the dusty saltpan that sits at its centre. During the dry season huge herds of elephants, zebras, antelope and giraffes, as well as rare black rhinos, congregate here against an eerie bleached-white backdrop. To see the elusive wild dog Khaudom Game Reserve is your best bet. Namibia’s other major parks for good wildlife viewing are Bwabwata National Park, Mudumu National Park and Mamili National Park.
Not all of Namibia’s wildlife is confined to national parks. Unprotected Damaraland, in Namibia’s northwest, is home to numerous antelope species and other ungulates, and is also a haven for desert rhinos, elephants and other specially adapted subspecies. Hikers in the Naukluft and other desert ranges may catch sight of the elusive Hartmann’s mountain zebra, and along the desert coasts you can see jackass penguins, flamingos, Cape fur seals and perhaps even the legendary brown hyena, or Strandwolf .
The dry lands of Namibia boast more than 70 species of snake, including three species of spitting cobra. It is actually the African puff adder that causes the most problems for humans, since it inhabits dry, sandy riverbeds. Horned adders and sand snakes inhabit the gravel plains of the Namib, and the sidewinder adder lives in the Namib dune sea. Other venomous snakes include the slender green vine snake; both the green and black mamba; the very dangerous zebra snake; and the boomslang (Afrikaans for ‘tree snake’), a slender 2m aquamarine affair with black-tipped scales.
Lizards, too, are ubiquitous. The largest of these is the leguaan or water monitor, a docile creature that reaches over 2m in length, swims and spends a lot of time laying around water holes, probably dreaming of becoming a crocodile. A smaller version, the savanna leguaan, inhabits kopjes (small hills) and drier areas. Also present in large numbers are geckos, chameleons, legless lizards, rock-plated lizards and a host of others.
The Namib Desert supports a wide range of lizards, including a large vegetarian species, Angolosaurus skoogi, and the sand-diving lizard, Aprosaura achietae , known for its ‘thermal dance’. The unusual bug-eyed palmato gecko inhabits the high dunes and there’s a species of chameleon.
In the watery marshes and rivers of the north of the country, you’ll find Namibia’s reptile extraordinaire, the Nile crocodile. It is one of the largest species of crocodile and can reach 5m to 6m in length. It has a reputation as a ‘man-eater’ but this is probably because it lives in close proximity to human populations. In the past there have been concerns over excessive hunting of the crocodile but these days numbers are well up and it’s more at risk from pollution and accidental entanglement in fishing nets.
Although Namibia doesn’t enjoy the profusion of bug life found in countries further north, a few interesting specimens buzz, creep and crawl around the place. Over 500 species of colourful butterflies – including the African monarch, the commodore and the citrus swallowtail – are resident, as well as many fly-by-night moths.
Some of the more interesting buggy types include the large and rarely noticed stick insects, the similarly large (and frighteningly hairy) baboon spider and the ubiquitous and leggy shongololo (millipede), which can be up to 30cm long.
The Namib Desert has several wonderful species of spider. The tarantula-like ‘white lady of the dunes’ is a white hairy affair that is attracted to light. There is also a rare false spider known as a solifluge or sun spider. You can see its circulatory system through its light-coloured translucent outer skeleton. The Namib dunes are also known for their extraordinary variety of tenebrionid (known locally as ‘toktokkie’) beetles.
Common insects such as ants, stink bugs, grasshoppers, mopane worms and locusts sometimes find their way into frying pans for snack and protein supplements.