Geography & Wildlife


Wildlife numbers have been affected by poaching and hunting. However, animal populations are now protected in parks and reserves, which cover over 15% of the country.

Lake Oanab

Lake OanabIn this video...Zoodes and Flora visit Lake Oanab, where visitors come to enjoy the scenic beauty of the surroundings and the wildlife around the dam.

Numbers of desert-adapted black rhino and elephant are increasing. Large mammals like leopards and cheetah also do well in Namibia’s terrain. And grazers such as giraffe and antelope can be found roaming with cattle and sheep – as you can see in the video opposite.

An inhospitable coastline

Namibia can be divided into four main regions running down the country – the Namib Desert along the coast, the Escarpment, the Central Plateau and the Kalahari Desert in the east.

Treacherous reefs and shifting sand banks lie along Namibia’s shoreline, which is aptly named the “Skeleton Coast” in the north – see Tourism & Communications. These reefs and the desert regions around Namibia’s borders (only parts of the northern frontier are easily passable) explain the late conquest of the land by the Europeans – see History & Politics.

Desert adaption

The Namib Desert is extremely dry, with rocky plains, mountain outcrops (known as inselbergs) and sand dunes in some areas. It would be easy to assume little grows in the hot, harsh conditions. But underground water sustains a variety of trees along the river valleys, such as the camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) with its deep roots.

  • Camelthorn tree
  • Large communal nest of the weaver bird

Desert life

Even in the driest areas, plants and wildlife can be found which have adapted themselves to the desert conditions. One example is the weaver bird which builds large communal nests for shade during the day – see Adaption techniques

The large, grey seedpods of the camelthorn tree provide important food for wild animals, especially during periods of droughts.

The tall ‘half plant, half human’ Pachypodium namaquanum is one of Nambia’s famous desert plants. This succulent typically grows between 1.5 and 2.5m, but specimens 4 or 5m tall have been found. A slow growing plant, like many in the desert, it can live for 100 years or more.

If you think a century is a long time, the welwitshcia (Welwitschia mirabilis), which only ever grows two leaves, can live for over a 1,000 years. This desert plant has long fascinated botanists – hence its Latin name ‘mirabilis’, meaning wonderful or astonishing.

Mountains and plateau


Seasonal rivers (known as “riviere”) flow at certain times. One is the Great Fish with its course through the Fish River Canyon – see Map. At up to 27km wide and 550m deep, this massive gorge is on the same kind of scale as America’s Grand Canyon.

Around 100km inland, an escarpment or bank of mountains rises up, with the Brandberg/Mount Brand the highest peak at 2,579m. The land then forms a central plateau, which lies at an average height of 1,100m and descends again in the east. This central region has areas of scrubland, grassland and wooded savannah in parts of the north.

Key dams help store vital water for the population. The country’s only permanent rivers lie along its borders – the Kunene and Okavango rivers to the very north and the Orange in the south.

The Kwando and Zambezi Rivers flow briefly through the narrow corridor of land known as the Caprivi Strip – see History & Politics.