The game and birds found here are typical of the savannah plains of southern Africa, but include several species endemic to this western side of the continent, adjacent to the Namib Desert.
The more common herbivores include elephant, giraffe, eland, blue wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, impala, steenbok, and zebra. The most numerous of these are the springbok which can often be seen in herds numbering thousands, spread out over the most barren of plains. These finely marked antelope have a marvellous habit of pronking, either (it appears) for fun or to avoid predators. It has been suggested that pronking is intended to put predators off in the first place by showing the animal's strength and stamina; the weakest pronkers are the ones predators are seen to go for. The early explorer Andersson described these elegant leaps:
This animal bounds without an effort to a height of 10 or 12 feet at one spring, clearing from 12 to 14 feet of ground. It appears to soar, to be suspended for a moment in the air, then, touching the ground, to make another dart, or another flight, aloft, without the aid of wings, by the elastic springiness of its legs.
Elephant are very common, though digging for water below the sand wears down their tusks and so big tuskers are very rare. Often large family groups are seen trooping down to waterholes to drink, wallow and bathe. The park's population has been under scientific scrutiny for the infrasonic noises (below the range of human hearing) which they make. It is thought that groups communicate over long distances in this way.
Among the rarer species, black rhino continue to thrive here, and the floodlit waterholes at Okaukuejo and Halali provide two of the continent's best chances to observe this aggressive and secretive species. On one visit here, I watched as a herd of 20 or so elephants, silently drinking in the cool of the night, were frightened away from the water, and kept at bay, by the arrival of a single black rhino. It returned several times in the space of an hour or so, each time causing the larger elephants to flee, before settling down to enjoy a drink from the pool on its own.
In the last few years, about a dozen white rhino have been introduced. Your best chance of seeing these is in the east of the park, around Aus, Springbokfontein, Batia or Okerfontein, either early or late in the day.
Black-faced impala are restricted to Namibia and southern Angola, occurring here as well as in parts of the Kaokoveld. With only isolated populations, numbering under a thousand or so, they are one of the rarest animals in the region. The Damara dik-dik is the park's smallest antelope. Endemic to Namibia, it is common here in areas of dense bush.
Roan antelope and red hartebeest occur all over the subcontinent, though they are common nowhere. This is definitely one of the better parks in which to look for roan, especially in the mopane areas around Aus and Olifantsbad.
All of the larger felines are found here, with good numbers of lion, leopard, cheetah and caracal. The lion tend to prey mainly upon zebra and wildebeest, whilst the cheetah rely largely upon springbok. The seldom-seen leopard take a varied diet, including antelope and small mammals, whilst the equally elusive caracal go for similar but smaller prey.
There have been several attempts to introduce wild dog here, but so far no success. The usual problem has been that the dogs don't know to avoid lion, which have subsequently killed them for no apparent reason.
Also found in the park are both spotted and brown hyenas, together with silver jackal (or cape fox), and the more common black-backed jackal – many of which can be seen in the late evening, skulking around the camps in search of scraps of food.