National parks and nature conservation in Namibia
In Namibia, nature conservation is enshrined in the constitution. Therefore, numerous state national parks as well as state and private nature reserves have been set up to protect and preserve the still untouched nature of the country. In 2013, almost 17 percent of Namibia’s land area was under state nature protection. In addition, about 21.5 percent of the country’s area is under partial state protection.
The Namib Skeleton Coast National Park, established in 2009, consists of the amalgamation of the previously independent national parks on the 1570 km long west coast of Namibia and stretches from the Oranje in the south to the Kunene in the north of the country. Due to its size, the Namib Skeleton Coast National Park is divided into different administrative districts, the extent and names of which roughly correspond to the previously existing nature reserves and continue to be used to designate the different national park areas. In the long term, the national park, which is already one of the eight largest nature reserves in the world, is to form one of the largest national parks in the world together with the planned Kunene Volkspark and Etosha National Park.
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A selection of areas that are particularly worth seeing include the following national parks and protected areas:
Etosha National Park
The Etosha National Park covers an area of 23,000 km² in the Etosha Pan in the north of Namibia, a depression in the Kalahari that is only periodically flooded in years of heavy rainfall. Due to the special living conditions in and on the edge of this extensive salt pan, up to eight distinguishable vegetation zones with different vegetation through grass steppes, short shrub, thorn bush or mopane savannahs as well as mixed dry forests and forests with tamboti trees have developed according to the different soil and water conditions. During the flooding phases, numerous flamingos are attracted to the shallow water. The animal population of the Etosha National Park is diverse and is home to a number of animal species typical of southern Africa.
Namib Naukluft National Park
The Namib Naukluft National Park is now part of the Namib Skeleton Coast National Park and was the largest nature reserve in Namibia with almost 50,000 km². The national park area comprises parts of the Namib Desert as well as the Naukluft Mountains adjoining it to the east, which form part of the striking edge of the Namibian highlands. The park offers the visitor a unique, almost surreal sand and dune landscape. The well-known Sossusvlei area is a salt-clay pan surrounded on all sides by orange-colored sand dunes, which is only very occasionally covered with water. The 120 kilometer long Naukluft Hiking Trail, which is one of the most demanding hiking trails in South Africa, leads through the Naukluft Mountains, which is named after the Naukluft, a deep gorge in the mountains that is well worth seeing. The national park area is home to a number of animals that have adapted to this extremely dry desert. These include snakes, geckos, unusual insects, hyenas, oryx, springboks, ostriches and jackals.
Skeleton Coast National Park
The area originally placed under protection north of Ugab in 1971 as the Skeleton Coast National Park, which covers around 16,800 km², today forms part of the larger Namib Skeleton Coast National Park.
The Skeleton Coast forms the northern part of the hostile Namib Desert, stretching from Swakopmund to the Kunene, and has always been notorious among seafarers because of fog, heavy surf and an unpredictable current through the Benguela Current. The name is derived from the remains of stranded whales and shipwrecked sailors who had no chance of survival in the desert. The large number of shipwrecks stranded on the sandbanks off the coast are still evidence of these tragedies. The landscape of the Skeleton Coast National Park impresses with the untouched dune landscape and the rough, wild and romantic coasts with jagged canyons and dry rivers, where lions, giraffes, black rhinos and some desert elephants can often be found.
Waterberg Plateau National Park
The Waterberg Plateau National Park is named after the Table Mountain of the same name in the central highlands of Namibia, which takes up most of the 400 km² protected area. 90 species of mammals, over 200 species of birds, 13 species of frogs, 3 species of turtles, 34 species of lizards, and 45 species of snakes are known on the plateau located 1880 m above sea level, as well as in its surroundings, which the mountain towers over 200 m high.
The nature reserve was originally created in 1972 to protect the eland. Today both the white and black rhinoceros, the African buffalo, sable, horse and lyre antelopes as well as leopards and cheetahs live on the Waterberg. The Waterberg was a refuge for the last Cape vultures in Namibia, which were finally extinct by the mid-2000s.
The vegetation in the National Park consists of bush and tree savannah.
Bwabwata National Park
The over 6000 km² large Bwabwata National Park is located in northeastern Namibia, in the so-called Caprivi Strip between Zambia and Botswana and includes the nature reserves Caprivi Game Park and Mahango Game Park. The landscape of the national park in the flooded area of the Okavango, Kuito and Kwando differs significantly from the desert-like landscape of the rest of Namibia with its dense savannas, floodplains and reed islands. Due to its diverse fauna, the national park is one of the most popular places for animal safaris, as there is constant wildlife movement and exchange with the extensive surroundings without disturbing fences. In addition to the famous “Big Five”, you can also observe the last wild dogs in Namibia at close range.
Crocodiles and hippos as well as many water birds are native to the rivers. The Kwando Marshes are known for the large herds of elephants that cross the area. Large game species include numerous antelope species such as the endemic lechwe, reedbuck and sitatunga as well as the bushbuck, horse and sable antelope, lyre antelope, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu and, more rarely, oryx, but also buffalo, which stop here on their migration from the Caprivi. Finally, there are also a number of smaller antelope and small mammal species.
Although the national park is a special protected area, the traditional population groups are still allowed to live in the core areas.