Namibia’s desert-adapted wildlife


A fascinating array of insects and reptiles live in this southern African country’s parched lands. Tony Park names a few species and explains how they survive in such arid surroundings

shutterstock_253872439In the Namibian desert, the smaller, less obvious creatures are just as enthralling as the ‘big five’ and very much worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

Chacma baboons are the same species as those found elsewhere in southern Africa, but their coats appear longer and darker. The hair is puffed up during the day to allow air to circulate over the skin, and the dark colour absorbs heat to keep them warm during the cold desert nights.

The knobbly darkling beetle has long legs to allow ventilation under its body, and stands with its bottom in the air to catch moisture from the Atlantic fog; water then runs down its back into its mouth.

Desert-adapted giraffe – paler than in other parts of Africa – are often observed bending down to feed on ‘elephant popcorn’, the nutritious seedpods of the ana trees.

The Péringuey’s adder (or ‘side winder’) has eyes on the top of its head so that when it buries itself in the sand it can keep an eye out for its victims.

iStock_000059866354_SmallOryx (‘gemsbok’ in Afrikaans) are made for life in the desert. These sturdy, beautiful animals can go three weeks without water and suck moisture from the flesh of desert tsama melons.

The dainty springbok are ruminants, which means they chew their cud over and over again to maximise their moisture intake. They can go an entire dry season without drinking water.

Noticeably different to the Burchell’s zebra of the African plains, the Hartmann’s mountain zebra are made for their environment. Their blood circulates through a dewlap under the neck and is cooled by the breeze. Their stripes are wide and dark on the sides of their bodies to absorb as much warmth from the sun as they can in the cool hours of morning and late afternoon, but they’re paler and wider on top to reflect the midday sun.

iStock_000042095964_SmallBlack-backed jackal (colloquially known as the ‘BBJ’) are common in Namibia’s desert areas. These omnivores will feed on everything from beetles to antelope.

You may be lucky enough to spot a brown hyena (or at least its tracks). Shy, nocturnal, and smaller than the spotted hyena, this desert-adapted creature is a rare, exciting sighting.