The amazing Animals of the Southern Deserts

The Kalahari and the Namib are large deserts in southern Africa. The Kalahari is a semi-arid desert. You will find only some waterholes at the edge of the desert. This is, where giraffes, zebras and antelopes gather after a hot day and take a drink. They are pretty thirsty. Be sure to find lions, cheetahs and jackals not far from the waterholes, waiting for their prey.


Animals of the Kalahari

The bigger mammals, mountain zebras, elephants, giraffes and antelopes gather together at the waterholes. As part of a community the individual animal has a better protection against jackals, lions and hyenas than as loner. Giraffes spot predators from afar, and gazelles have a good sense of approaching predators.

Desert Elephants

Elephanten in der Namib Wüste (c) Patrick Giraud (cc) creative commons

The Kalahari is home to a unique population of elephants that have adapted to the inhospitable climate. These "desert" elephants can go for days without drinking water, surviving on moisture obtained from the vegetation they eat. Although not a different species than other African elephants, they have larger feet, making it easier to walk through sand, and often live in smaller herds, which puts less pressure on their food and water sources. Desert elephants wander along dried out river, they can detect underground water sources. This is why they are followed by other animals.

Antelopes and Zebras

Namibia, Etosha Pfanne (c) Grace Willis

The elephants are followed by zebras and antelopes. As part of a mixed herd they are better prepared against predators. Often times, antelopes are the first at the rare water holes, followed by plains zebra. The plains zebra is a highly social species, forming harems with a single stallion, several mares and their recent offspring. The animals keep watch for predators rather than attempting to hide; they bark or snort when they see a predator, and the harem stallion attacks predators to defend his harem.

The Golden Mole, an Underground Architect

Wüsten-Goldmull (c) Wilfried BernsThe Golden Mole is a very small, furry animal. These animals live underground, they burrow to escape the sun. They have short legs with powerful digging claws. They cannot see, their eyes are covered with skin and fur. Their primary sense is that of touch. They sense vibrations, which enables them to recognize approaching danger. And also they sense the vibration of insects, their favorite diet. They are especially endangered due to hunting by jackals. The burrows may penetrate as far as a metre below ground. They include deep chambers for use as bolt-holes, and others as latrines. Females give birth to one to three young.

Animals of the Namib

Gazelle in Namib

The Gemsbok

The gemsbok is an impressive antelope, which has adapted to the harsh conditions of the Namib. It is really fascinating to see a single gemsbok or a group amidst the desert. These rare animals tell us something about our abilitiy to cope with very limited conditions. Perhaps, this is why the Namibians depicted the gemsbok on the Coat of Arms of Namibia. The gemsbok has a brown coat, similar to that of the sand in the desert. Male and also female have conspicious horns. The male use their horns to fight against rivals, mothers use their horns do defend their young against predators. Unfortunately, they are often hunted for these horns. Fortunately, both can run very fast. They can avoid drinking water for weeks by not sweating. Gemsbok live in herds of about 10–40 animals, with a dominant male and a harem of females.

Birds in the Namib

Can birds live in the Namib, where there are nearly no plants and trees? There is one tree, that gives shade and shelter to animals, the Camelthorn tree. It has no leaves, only sticky thorns. Nevertheless, it is available for bird nesting. That's why you can find the desert hawk in the Namib.

The Desert Hawk

SchlangenadlerThe Desert Hawk is one of the top predators in the Namib because it hosts only a few predators. It controls the population of the Tarantula, Lizards, and Geckos. Even snakes are on their menue. With their sharp eyes they can spot the smallest creatures, even those which have a perfect camouflage. Water is extremely rare in the Namib. Every species is limited to the restricted amount of water. The Desert Hawk can keep the prey’s population down, by preying on certain animals. He cares for the balance in the Namib.

The smart Reptiles of the Namib

The Namib Desert Viper, an artist in camouflage

The Namib Desert Viper lives in the sandy dunes. It is a commonly built viper.  It is also called sidewinding adder, because it sidewinds quickly through the hot sand. They are only 20 to 25 cm in length, but they are high venomous snakes. They have distinct eyes and a face pit, which are common to all vipers. The head is short and flat with eyes located on top of the head. These vipers are ferocious hunters, they bury themself just beneath the surface of the sand with only its eyes and the tip of its tail exposed. They trick their prey using great camouflage, and attack them when they are near. Their diet includes lizards and geckos.

Geckos and Chameleons

Gecko (c) Spidergecko

The web-footed Namib dune gecko is a nocturnal reptile. Its main food supply consists of fish moths, spiders and dune crickets, which are all active at night. The gecko gets protein as well as moisture from its food source. The palmato gecko is also able to lick the water that has condensed on its body due the thick fog that settles on the Namib. Before sunrise the gecko will dig into the dune sand to ride out the heat of the day with sand temperatures sometimes exceeding 70  ̊C!

Chamäleon in der Namib (c) Yathin S Krishnappa

The Namaqua chameleon is the fastest chameleon on earth and can clock speeds of 3km/h. This chameleon will flatten its black body towards the sun to absorb as much heat as possible, kick-starting its metabolism. If the day temperatures rise to above 30  ̊C, the chameleons will climb onto a small bush to get as far away from the hot sand. They are turning white to reflect the heat. Namaqua chameleons get most of their moisture from eating beetles, locusts, lizards, small snakes and even scorpions. They also drink water off the leaves of plants,  formed by condensation from fog.

Insects, Beetles, Ants

Nebeltrinker (c) Harald SüpfleIt is hard to believe, that insects can live in the hot sands of Namibia. But infact, there are many ants, spiders and beetles to be found in the Namib dunes. There are the Namib desert ants, which are drinking honeydew from scale insects. They are living in colonies with a single queen. The Namib Desert beetle is also called fogstand beetle, which lives in the driest regions of the Namib. They have long, thin legs, and bumpy outer wings. They are climbing to high peaks of dunes, and facing into the breeze. Moisture from the fog then accumulates onto the bumpy wings of the beetle. When developed to a sufficient size, the moisture will roll down the beetle's angled back to their mouth.