Namibia is divided into 14 vegetation zones, ranging from desert, semi-desert, mopane, mountain, thorn bush, highland, dwarf shrub, camel-thorn, mixed tree and shrub savannahs to forest savannahs and woodlands. Golden expanses of African grasslands dotted by solitary acacias and stretches of silvery grass appearing on desert plains after the rains typify the greater landscape.
Over 120 species of trees grow in Namibia, ranging from the ubiquitous umbrella-shaped camel-thorn, Acacia erioloba, to the valuable ana tree, Faidherbia albida, with its creamy-yellow flowers and nutritious pods.
Common in the north are mopane, terminalia, marula, giant figs, baobabs, makalani palms and commercially exploitable timber species such as kiaat, tamboti and Transvaal teak. In the arid central and southern regions the kokerboom or quiver tree, Aloe dichotoma is distinctive, and in northern Namibia, the imposing leadwood Combretum imberbe. Also called the omumborumbonga, the leadwood is the ancestral tree of the Herero.
There are approximately 200 endemic plant species in Namibia, including several species of lithops, the Aloe asperifolia (desert regions), Aloe namibensis (rocky outcrops in the central pre-Namib and eastwards near Karibib). Other noteworthy plants are the elephant’s foot, Adenia pechuelii (western desert regions) and the halfmens, Pachypodium namaquanum (far south near the Orange River). A large variety of dwarf succulents grow in the Lüderitz environs, while the Namib- hosts over 100 species of lichen, several of which are endemic.
A desert plant that has caused much interest amongst botanists worldwide is the Welwitschia mirabilis, endemic to the Namib Desert and one of the oldest plants known to man.
Namibia’s abundant wildlife is arguably its greatest tourist asset. Large game species include elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, lion, leopard and cheetah.
There are eight endemic mammal species – the black-faced impala and several species of mice, gerbils and bats – while the Namib Desert is well known for its large number of endemic dune-dwellers, especially lizards, of which there are 30 endemic species. Endangered mammals are wild dog, cheetah, black rhino, lion, puku, oribi and waterbuck.
Namibia has over 20 antelope species, ranging from the largest, the eland, to the smallest, the Damara dik-dik. The gemsbok, a striking antelope with its long, symmetrical horns and distinctive black-and-white markings, is featured on the Namibian coat of arms. A wealth of small mammals, including mongoose and jackal, occur throughout the country, as well as the less common, solitary and nocturnal antbear and honey badger.
Of the 887 bird species listed for Southern Africa, 676 have been recorded in Namibia. Of these, about 500 species breed locally, while the rest are migrants. Eleven species are endemic, meaning that over 75% of their total world populations are found in Namibia.
Special endemics are the Herero chat, rockrunner, Monteiro’s hornbill and Damara tern (99%). The African fish-eagle, typifying the lakes, rivers, swamps and flood plains of Africa, is also featured on the Namibian coat of arms. Of keen interest to visitors is the sociable weaver, which builds its extraordinary communal nest in trees, or on telephone poles. These huge nests, in which several hundreds of birds live together, have been recorded as being in continuous use for up to 100 years.
After the exceptionally good rainy season of 2010/2011, which resulted in increased water levels of the Okavango River in northern Namibia, more than 50 different bird species have been spotted on the banks of the Chobe River and more than 12 600 water birds have been seen in the area. Many of these were last seen during the 1950s and 1960s as a result of the drier water deltas. Unfortunately this also meant that coastal birds migrated inland and less of them can now be seen in the Swakopmund and Walvis Bay environs.
For detailed and up-to-date information on Namibia’s environment, refer to the publication Atlas of Namibia – A Portrait of the Land and its People by John Mendelsohn, Alice Jarvis, Carole Roberts and Tony Robertson.