Flora and fauna
Though the Naukluft's wildlife is discussed separately, the flora and fauna elsewhere in the Namib-Naukluft are similar, dependent more on the landscape than on precise location. (Dr Mary Seely's book, The Namib, is a superb and simple guide to this area, widely available in Windhoek and Swakopmund.) The four basic types of environment found here, and some of their highlights, are:
Dunes are everybody's idea of a desert, and generally thought of as being bare and lifeless. Whilst this is not inaccurate for many deserts, the Namib is sufficiently old for endemic species to have evolved.
Various grasses grow on some of the more stable dunes, but most of the vegetable matter comes from wind-blown detritus. This collects at the bottom of the dunes, to be eaten by fish-moths (silver-fish), crickets and the many tenebrionid beetles – or tok tokkies
, as they are known – near the base of the food chain. Particular tenebrionid species occur in specific environments, with those in the coastal fog belt adapting ingeniously to harness the available moisture.
These then provide food for spiders, geckos, lizards, and chameleons which, in turn, fall prey to sidewinder snakes. Rare Grant's golden moles eat any small beetles or larvae that they can catch, and birds are mobile enough to move in and out of the dunes in search of the smaller animals. The dune lark is endemic to this region, and is seldom found outside the dune areas.
River Valleys And Pans
The river valleys that run through the Namib are linear oases. Though dry on the surface, their permanent underground water sustains trees and bushes, like the camelthorn, Acacia erioloba
, and nara melon, Acanthosicyos horrida
, found in the middle of the great dune-sea at Sossusvlei.
Other common river-valley trees include the anaboom, Acacia albida
, shepherd's tree, Boscia albitrunca
, easily identified by its white trunk, the wild green-hair tree, Parkinsonia Africana
, and the marvellously weeping false ebony, Euclea pseudebenus
The lush vegetation found in these valleys makes them a favourite for numerous insects and birds, as well as larger mammals like gemsbok, kudu and springbok. These are the most likely areas to find nocturnal cats from leopard to caracal, especially where the rivers cut through mountains rather than dunes.
Throughout the desert, and especially north of the Kuiseb River, the Namib has many expansive, flat plains of rock and stone. These come alive during the rains, when they will quickly be covered with tall thin grass and creeping yellow flowers, attracting herds of gemsbok, springbok and even Hartmann's mountain zebra. During drier times there are fewer large mammals around, but still at night black-backed jackal, aardwolf and the occasional aardvark forage for termites, while bat-eared and Cape foxes scavenge for insects, reptiles, and anything else edible.
Spotted hyena and even the rare brown hyena are sometimes recorded here. Both leave distinctive white droppings, but only the sociable spotted hyenas make such eerie, mournful calls.
Resident larger birds include ostrich, secretary birds, Rüppell's korhaan and Ludwig's bustard, while enthusiastic 'twitchers' will seek the pale, apparently insignificant Gray's lark (amongst other larks), which is endemic to the gravel plains of the Namib.
Inselbergs and mountain outcrops
Throughout the Namib there are mountains, often of granite or limestone. Some, like many between Sesriem and Sossusvlei, have become submerged beneath the great dune-sea. Others, especially north of the Kuiseb River, jut up through the flat desert floor like giant worm casts on a well-kept lawn. These isolated mountains surrounded by gravel plains are inselbergs (from the German for 'island-mountain') – and they have their own flora and fauna. Euphorbia, Acacia, Commiphora, Zygophyllum
species are common, whilst the succulent Lithops
(often called living rocks, for their pebble-like shape) occur here, though less frequently.
Many inselbergs are high enough to collect moisture from morning fogs, which sustain succulents and aloes, and with them whole communities of invertebrates. Temporary pools in crevices can be particularly interesting, and there's a whole microcosm of small water creatures that lay drought-resistant eggs. These survive years of desiccation, to hatch when the pools do finally fill.
Being open land these make perfect perches for raptors – and lappet-faced vultures, greater kestrels, and red-necked falcons are typical of this environment. Also watch for sandgrouse, which congregate at water around dusk and dawn, and other well-camouflaged foraging birds.