Namibia information

Wildlife in Namibia - Large herbivores

Namibia's wildlife is fascinating, and this is a key reason for many travellers to visit this vast country. Below is a little information on Namibia's giant inhabitants, including African elephant, black & white rhino, hippo and giraffe – concentrating on Namibia-specific aspects. Most of the comments are taken from the Bradt guide to Namibia, which is written by Chris, one of our experts.

African elephant

Loxodonta Africana Shoulder height 2.3–3.4m. Weight up to 6,000kg.
The world's largest land animal, the African elephant is intelligent, social and often very entertaining to watch. Elephants are widespread and common in habitats ranging from desert to rainforest. In Namibia they are common in the Caprivi Strip and Etosha National Park, and in Kalahari areas around Khaudum.
Until about 50 years ago Etosha's elephants used to migrate, spending the wetter parts of the year in the Kaokoveld and the drier months nearer to Etosha's permanent waterholes. Etosha's boundary fence has stopped that. However, the herds still tend to head to the hills of western Etosha during the rains, returning to the pan several months later as the bush dries out. Every year a few break out of the park's elaborate fences.
The isolated population which frequents the river valleys of the Kaokoveld are commonly known as 'desert elephants' – though desert-adapted might be a more accurate term. These family groups have learnt where the rivers and waterholes are, probably from their elders, and can navigate through the Kaokoveld's mountains and dunes to find water. After several decades of persecution by humans, these elephants are now (understandably) noted for their aggression. Even visitors in sturdy vehicles should treat them with exceptional respect.

Black rhinoceros

Diceros bicornis Shoulder height 160cm. Weight 1,000kg.
This is the more widespread of Africa's two rhino species, an imposing and rather temperamental creature. It has been poached to extinction in most of its former range, but still occurs in very low numbers in many southern African reserves; Namibia offers its best chance of long-term survival – thanks in no small measure to the work of Namibia's Save the Rhino Trust.
Black rhinos exploit a wide range of habitats from dense woodlands and bush, through to the very open hillsides of northern Damaraland. Often (and descriptively) referred to as the hook-lipped rhino, the black rhino is adapted to browse. Over its range it utilises hundreds of different plants, though local populations are often more specific in their diet: in the Kaokoveld, for example, Euphorbia damarana is a great favourite.
Black rhinos are generally solitary animals and can survive without drinking for 4–5 days. However, they will drink daily if they can, and individuals often meet at waterholes – as visitors to the floodlit waterholes at Okaukuejo and Halali will usually see to their delight. They are often territorial and have very regular patterns of movement, which make them an easy target for poachers. Black rhinos can be very aggressive when disturbed and will charge with minimal provocation. Their hearing and sense of smell is acute, whilst their eyesight is poor (so they often miss if you keep a low profile and don't move).

White rhinoceros

Ceratotherium simum Shoulder height 180cm. Weight 1,500–2,000kg.
No paler in colour than the black rhino – the 'white' derives from the Afrikaans weit (wide) and refers to its flattened mouth, an ideal shape for cropping grass. This is the best way to tell the two rhino species apart, since the mouth of the black rhino, a browser in most parts of its range, is more rounded with a hooked upper lip.
Aside from a relic population of some 30 animals in the northern Congo, the white rhino is now restricted to southern African reserves. They were reintroduced to Waterberg years ago, and about a dozen have recently been introduced back into Etosha – where they seem to frequent the areas between Namutoni and Springbokfontein waterhole. Unlike their smaller cousins, white rhino are generally placid grazing animals which are very rarely aggressive. They prefer open grassy plains and are often seen in small groups.