Namibia is perfect for those seeking big cats and wild dogs.
Wildlife in Namibia - Cats and DogsNamibia's wildlife is a key reason why many visitors travel here, and below is a little information on Namibia's cats and dogs – concentrating on aspects that are specific to Namibia. Many of the comments are taken from the Bradt guide to Namibia written by Chris, one of the Expert Africa team.
Lion -Panthera leo Shoulder height 100–120cm. Weight 150–220kg.
Africa's largest predator, the lion is the animal that everybody hopes to see on safari. It is a sociable creature, living in prides of five to ten animals and defending a territory of between 20 and 200km².
In Namibia, lions are occasionally reported in the Kaokoveld or in the Central Highlands, but Etosha and the Caprivi's parks are the most reliable places to see them. Occasionally, they used to find their way down river valleys and take seals on the coast as prey. However, there are no reliable reports of this in recent years.
Leopard -Panthera pardus Shoulder height 70cm. Weight 60–80kg.
The powerful leopard is the most solitary and secretive of Africa's big cats. It hunts at night, using stealth and power, often getting to within 5m of its intended prey before pouncing.
Leopards are the most common of Africa's large felines, yet a good sighting in the wild is extremely unusual – in fact there are many records of individuals living for years undetected in close proximity to humans. They occur everywhere apart from the desert, though they favour habitats with plenty of cover, like riverine woodlands and rocky kopjes. Namibia's Central Highlands are perfect for leopard, which are common on the farms there. Some lodges, like Okonjima, encourage sightings by offering them food.
Cheetah -Acynonix jubatus Shoulder height 70–80cm. Weight 50–60kg.
This remarkable spotted cat has a greyhound-like build, and is capable of running at 70km per hour in bursts, making it the world's fastest land animal. A diurnal hunter, cheetah favour the cooler hours of the day to hunt smaller antelope, like steenbok and duiker, and small mammals like scrub hares.
Namibia probably has Africa's highest cheetah population – estimated at 25% of the world's population. This is largely due to the eradication of lion and spotted hyena from large areas of commercial farmland, where cheetah are not usually regarded (by enlightened farmers) as a threat to cattle. Etosha is Namibia's best park for cheetah in the wild, though there's probably a higher density of them on many farms.
The serval -Felis serval Shoulder height 55cm.
The serval is smaller than a cheetah, but has a similar build and black-on-gold spots giving way to streaking near the head. Seldom seen, it is widespread and quite common in moist grassland, reedbeds and riverine habitats throughout Africa, including Owamboland, Etosha, Bushmanland and the Caprivi Strip. It preys on mice, rats and small mammals, but will sometimes take the young of small antelope.
Caracal -Felis caracal Shoulder height 40cm. Weight 15–20kg.
The caracal resembles the European lynx with its uniform tan coat and tufted ears. It is a solitary hunter, feeding on birds, small antelope and young livestock. Found throughout the subcontinent, it thrives in Namibia's relatively arid savannah habitats, and occurs everywhere except the far western coastal strip of the Namib. It is nocturnal and rarely seen.
African wild dog -Lycaon pictus Shoulder height 70cm. Weight 25kg.
Also known as the painted hunting dog, the wild dog is distinguished from other African dogs by its large size and mottled black, brown and cream coat. Wild dogs prefer open savannah with only sparse tree cover, if any, and packs have enormous territories, typically covering 400km² or more. They travel huge distances in search of prey and so few parks are large enough to contain them.
In Namibia wild dogs are sometimes seen in Khaudum or on the Caprivi Strip. Botswana's nearby parks of Chobe and Moremi are one of their last strongholds, and so they certainly move across the border. Attempts to reintroduce them to Etosha have so far failed.
Black-backed jackal -Canis mesomelas Shoulder height 35–45cm. Weight 8–12kg.
The black-backed jackal is an opportunistic feeder capable of adapting to most habitats. Most often seen singly or in pairs at dusk or dawn, it is ochre in colour with a prominent black saddle flecked by a varying amount of white or gold. It is probably the most frequently observed small predator in Africa south of the Zambezi, and its eerie call is a characteristic sound of the bush at night. It is found throughout Namibia, excluding the Caprivi Strip, and particularly common in Etosha, where it is frequently seen inside the restcamps at night, scavenging for scraps.
Side-striped jackal -Canis adustus
The similar side-striped jackal is more cryptic in colour, and has an indistinct pale vertical stripe on each flank and a white-tipped tail. Nowhere very common; in Namibia it is found in the Caprivi Strip and occasionally Khaudum or Owamboland.
Bat-eared fox -Otocyon megalotis Shoulder height 30–35cm. Weight 3–5kg.
This endearing small, silver-grey insectivore is unmistakable with its huge ears and black eye-mask. It is relatively common throughout Namibia, anywhere that the harvester termite is found. It is mostly nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen in pairs or small family groups during the cooler hours of the day, usually in dry open country. It digs well, and if seen foraging then it will often 'listen' to the ground (its ears operating like a radio-dish) whilst wandering around, before stopping to dig with its forepaws. As well as the termites, bat-eared foxes will eat lizards, gerbils, small birds, scorpions and beetle larvae.
The south-west of Namibia is usually the best place for seeing bat-eared foxes – places like Bagatelle and Anib offer better chances than most of seeing these secretive animals.
Cape fox -Vulpes chama
The Cape fox is an infrequently seen dry-country predator which occurs throughout Namibia, but is absent from the Caprivi Strip. The Cape fox lacks the prominent ears and mask of the bat-eared fox and its coat is a uniform sandy-grey colour. I once had a Cape fox approach me cautiously, after dusk, whilst camping at Bloedkoppie in the northern section of the Namib-Naukluft Park, but have never seen another.
Spotted hyena -Crocuta crocuta Shoulder height 85cm. Weight 70kg.
Hyenas are characterised by their bulky build, sloping back, rough brownish coat, powerful jaws and dog-like expression. Contrary to popular myth, spotted hyenas are not exclusively scavengers; they are also adept hunters which hunt in groups and kill animals as large as wildebeests.
The spotted hyena is the largest hyena, identified by its light-brown, blotchily spotted coat. It is found in the wetter areas of northern Namibia, most of the national parks and reserves devoted to game, and occasionally in eastern parts of the Namib Desert. Although mainly nocturnal, spotted hyenas can often be seen around dusk and dawn in protected areas like Etosha. Their distinctive, whooping calls are a spine-chilling sound of the African night.
Brown hyena -Hyaena brunnea
The secretive brown hyena occurs in arid parts of Namibia, and has a shaggy, unmarked dark brown coat – not unlike a large, long-haired German shepherd dog. In contrast to the spotted hyena, brown hyenas tend to scavenge rather than hunt, and are generally solitary whilst doing so. They are the dominant carnivore in the drier areas of the Namib, and are even seen scavenging on the beaches and around seal colonies. Because of this, the local name for them is strandwolf, or beach-wolves.
Aardwolf -Proteles cristatus Shoulder height 45–50cm. Weight 7–11kg.
With a tawny brown coat and dark, vertical stripes, this insectivorous hyena is not much bigger than a jackal and occurs in low numbers in most parts of Namibia. It is active mainly at night, gathering harvester termites, its principal food, with its wide, sticky tongue.
Thus open grassland or lightly wooded areas form the typical habitat for aardwolves, which can sometimes be spotted around dusk, dawn, or on very overcast days, especially during the colder months. They seem to be thriving in Namibia's central ranchland, giving you better chances of glimpsing them on many guest farms than anywhere else in Africa.