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Wildlife in Namibia - Cats and Dogs

Wildlife in Namibia - Cats and Dogs

Big cats and wild dogs

Namibia'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.


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.


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.


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.
Namibia is perfect for those seeking big cats and wild dogs.
Majestic lion are frequently seen in Etosha and the Caprivi Strip...
...whilst secretive leopard have been spotted throughout the country.
Namibia also has the largest cheetah population in the world.
The nocturnal cacaral is common, but rarely seen.
Bat-eared fox...
...and black-backed jackal...
...are just some of Namibias wild dogs.

Namibia is perfect for those seeking big cats and wild dogs.

Majestic lion are frequently seen in Etosha and the Caprivi Strip...

...whilst secretive leopard have been spotted throughout the country.

Namibia also has the largest cheetah population in the world.

The nocturnal cacaral is common, but rarely seen.

Bat-eared fox...

...and black-backed jackal...

...are just some of Namibias wild dogs.

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.


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.


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.

Our top picks for holidays to Namibia

We'll always tailor-make your Town for you. Here are some of our favourites to inspire you.

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Chongololo Self-drive Safari

21 days • 11 locations

This self-drive safari focuses on the best walking experiences in Namibia. Get your boots ready for the apricot dunes of the Namib Desert and the ancient hills of Damaraland.

US$7,410 - US$9,970 per person

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Hartebeest Self-drive Safari

16 days • 8 locations

This self-drive safari focuses on the best cultural experiences in Namibia. Visit a Himba village and enjoy three days living with the San Bushmen interspersed with some excellent wildlife watching.

US$3,540 - US$4,340 per person

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Rock Hare Self-drive Safari

20 days • 12 locations

An in-depth look at Namibia from the Namib Desert to the Caprivi, with additional stops in Botswana and Victoria Falls. This three-week adventure includes an unrivalled mix of environments and is great value.

US$5,250 - US$7,470 per person

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Caracal Self-drive Safari

14 days • 8 locations

The quintessential Namibian self-drive adventure exploring the highlights from Sossusvlei and the Namib Desert to Damaraland’s wilderness and a safari in Etosha. A great mix of accommodation and excellent value.

US$2,710 - US$4,150 per person

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Dune Lark Fly & Drive Safari

14 days • 8 locations

A combination fly-in self-drive exploration of Namibia, with quick, easy and scenic flights in and out of Sossusvlei before a classic road trip adventure of the country’s rugged north.

US$4,560 - US$5,860 per person

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Brown Hyena Self-drive

14 days • 8 locations

The perfect trip for those who want to mix the adventure and freedom of a self-drive with some of our favourite luxury camps in Namibia and a great mix of activities.

US$7,890 - US$9,950 per person

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Quiver Tree Self-drive Safari

14 days • 7 locations

An offbeat Namibian self-drive adventure exploring the epic Fish River Canyon and fascinating Kolmanskop ghost town in the south, before turning north via the classic highlights of Sossusvlei, Swakopmund and Damaraland.

US$2,390 - US$3,300 per person

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Black Wildebeest Self-drive Safari

19 days • 10 locations

Journey from South Africa’s cosmopolitan Cape Town to central Namibia’s Okonjima Nature Reserve during this self-driven safari. The route passes through a stunning variety of landscapes, offering access to this beautiful continent’s rich diversity.

US$3,320 - US$3,820 per person

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Cape Fox Guided Safari

13 days • 7 locations

A classic clockwise circuit around Namibia’s northern highlights with a private guide and vehicle. We can’t think of a better way to see more in this timeframe.

US$8,450 - US$10,770 per person

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Black-faced Impala Guided Safari

13 days • 6 locations

A unique mix of luxury and adventure in our original, and perhaps most varied, destination on a privately guided Namibian overland safari. Perfect for families, friends or couples travelling together.

US$4,910 - US$6,470 per person

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