Namibia's large mammals are typical of the savannah areas of southern Africa, though those that rely on daily water are restricted in their distributions. With modern game-capture and relocation techniques, you may well find animals far out of their natural ranges. (Bontebok and black wildebeest, for example, are native to South Africa but are now found on many ranches in Namibia.) Thus what you may see in a given area may be different from what 'naturally occurs'.
The large predators are all here in Namibia. Lion are locally common, but largely confined to the parks and the Caprivi area away from dense habitation. Leopard are exceedingly common throughout the country, and the central highlands provide just the kind of rocky habitat that they love. They are, however, very rarely seen naturally. Cheetah do exceptionally well in Namibia, which is said to have about 40% of Africa's population. This is mainly because commercial farmers eradicate lion and hyena relatively easily, and allow smaller buck, the cheetah's natural prey, to coexist with cattle. Hence the cheetahs thrive on large ranches – having problems only if the farmers suspect them of killing stock and try to eradicate them also.
Wild dog have a stronghold in the wild areas around Khaudum, but are seldom seen elsewhere. They need huge territories in which to roam, and don't survive well on commercially farmed land. Recent attempts to reintroduce them to Etosha have failed; it is hoped that some may succeed in the future.
The social spotted hyena is common in the north and northwest of the country, and even occurs down into the Namib's central desert areas and the Naukluft mountains – though it is not common here. Much more common and widespread is the solitary, secretive brown hyena, which is common by the coast, where it can even be seen scavenging amongst the seal colonies.
Buffalo occur in protected national parks in the Caprivi, and have been re-introduced to Waterberg from South Africa, but are not found elsewhere in Namibia.
Elephant occur widely in the north, in Khaudum, Caprivi and Etosha. A separate population has its stronghold in the Kaokoveld. Many venture right down the river valleys and live in desert areas: these are the famous 'desert elephants'. They survive there by knowing exactly where the area's waterholes are, and where water can be found in the rivers. This ancestral knowledge, probably passed down the generations, is easily lost, although in recent years various conservation/development schemes in the area have been so successful that these 'desert-adapted' elephants are now thriving.
Black rhino occur in similar areas, but poaching now effectively limits them to some of the main national parks, and the less accessible areas of the Kaokoveld. Their numbers also are doing very well, and those in the Kaokoveld form one of Africa's only increasing black rhino populations: success indeed for an area outside any national park where only community conservation schemes stand between the poachers and their quarry. White rhino have been re-introduced to Waterberg and Etosha, where they seem to be thriving.
Antelope are well represented, with springbok, gemsbok or impala being numerically dominant depending on the areas. The rare endemic black-faced impala is a subspecies found only in northwestern Namibia and southern Angola.
Roan antelope are found in the Caprivi, Waterberg and Etosha. Sable occur only in the Caprivi, with excellent numbers often seen on the Okavango's floodplains on the edge of Mahango. In the Caprivi's wetter areas there are also red lechwe and the odd sitatunga.
Red hartebeest are widespread in the north and east, though common nowhere. Blue wildebeest are found in Etosha and the north, as are giraffe. Eland occur in Etosha and the Kalahari, whilst Kudu seem the most adaptable of the large antelope, occurring everywhere apart from the coastal desert strip – and also eastwards to the Indian Ocean.
Amongst the smaller antelope, duiker are common everywhere apart from the desert, as are steenbok. Klipspringer occur throughout Namibia's mountains. Namibia's smallest antelope, the Damara dik-dik, is endemic to the area around the Kaokoveld and Etosha.