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Written by: Webmaster on 18 November 2016

Namibia’s rare desert-adapted wildlife: Which animals can you see in the desert?

Desert elephant in Namibia

For the most part, Namibia may not be able to boast the great densities of big game found in some of its neighbouring countries, and this is of little surprise considering the vast swathes of desert that comprise most of Namibia. However, though not always easy to spot, an astonishing array of wildlife has adapted to this arid and seemingly inhospitable environment. Here are some of the crowd favourites to look out for:

Desert elephants

Found amidst the rugged mountains, gravel plains and dry river valleys of Damaraland and the southern parts of Kaokoland, Namibia’s desert-adapted elephants routinely move great distances between feeding grounds and the scattered waterholes where they drink during the dry season; they are known to traverse distances of up to 70km in one go. These elephants are slightly smaller than their savannah counterparts, though they are in fact from the same species. Apart from Namibia, the only other country in the world where desert-dwelling elephants are found is Mali.

Desert elephant under shad giving tree

Desert black rhino

Namibia boasts Africa’s largest population of free-roaming desert-dwelling black rhino, most of which are found within the Kunene Region, which is comprised of Damaraland and Kaokoland. Visitors can track these elusive and endangered mammals with experienced local guides to find out more about their behavior, their habitat, and how they are being protected.

Brown hyena

In Namibia, about 800 to 1200 of the solitary, nocturnal brown hyena occur, with approximately 50% dispersed across the coastal areas of the Namib Desert. Here, they are the only large predators, and their only competitor for food is the black-backed jackal. The distinctive long-haired brown hyenas cover vast areas; it is not uncommon for them to travel as far as 40 km in a single night. True scavengers, they eat pretty much whatever they can find, from fruit and insects to mammals.

Desert lions

Numbering somewhere close to 150, Namibia’s unique desert lions are a particularly rare and special sighting. The tireless work of the Desert Lion Conservation group has seen numbers boosted from a mere twenty lions in the 1990s. These lions have an extensive range from deep in the heart of the Damaraland right out to the shores of the Skeleton Coast. With so little prey available, they are known to hunt big game such as giraffe, and have also been seen eating seals.


The striking Oryx is Namibia’s national animal and its certainly an apt choice. This large antelope with its distinctive long, straight horns can survive where no other antelope could. Found right across Namibia, the Oryx’s behaviour patterns are entirely geared towards conserving water and energy, and they can withstand extreme temperatures. These beautiful buck look particularly striking against the burnt orange dunes of the Namib desert.

Oryx walking in stone desert