You’d think that a sparsely vegetated dry countryside would be devoid of life. Well, nature doesn’t work that way – in fact there are many creatures adapted to this harsh environment and then there are creatures that are adapted to eating those things that are adapted to the harsh environment. All it takes is time, lots of time.
There are fewer animals and plants over all and the diversity doesn’t compare to places like Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, or Borneo or other wet and crumpled countrysides. But there is quite a variety of life in the Namibian desert.
|Because this is a sparsely populated country the roads are not always sealed. But there isn’t much traffic so the roads are pretty much yours to drive as you wish. We happened on this other mode of transport and stopped to say hello and hand out a few bottles of water.
Many of the animals of the desert are small and depend on insects to underwrite their food supply. The Yellow Mongoose is widespread in southern Africa. It is usually seen as a single animal but they live in family groups of about half a dozen. Each morning they go off individually to forage for food. they often live in burrows dug by Ground Squirrels or Suricates (Meercats). Often the three animals live in the same burrows at the same time.
One of the (many) animals that has developed into several species over time is the zebra. As climate change has occurred over the past several million years the extent of savanna land has changed dramatically and more than once. Sometimes much of Africa is savanna and other times there is extensive forest; it is all weather related and changes over the thousands of years. Zebra have become Common (Plains or Burchell’s), Mountain (Cape and Hartmann’s), and the north-of-the-equator Grevy’s. We were very lucky to see Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra in very good numbers over an extended period of time. We were kind of stuck on the coach but had plenty of good looks. Notice that the stripe go all the way down the legs to the hoof. The belly is white.
Cheetah have a spotty record in Namibia. Over the past one hundred years they have been treated like vermin and eradicated at every opportunity. Today things are changing and the farmers are more accepting of having this modest-sized predator on their land (it’s never that the farmer is on the cheetah’s land is it). The government has instituted a compensation program for lost livestock and population numbers no longer seem to be declining.
The cheetah below has just killed an adult male Springbok and is pausing to allow for the cellular wastes that build up during a chase to leave the body. Cheetah will often lie down and pant for ten minutes after making a kill. In areas where there is a likelihood that a hyena or lion might steal the prey item cheetah will drag the prey to cover before resting. A male Springbok will weigh 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and a female cheetah is about the same weight. This male cheetah probably weighs about 110 pounds.
The Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma) shown below is about 25 feet tall. The straw in the front of the tree’s canopy is equal to about 15 bales of hay. That straw is the communal nest of a small bird called the Sociable Weaver. Nests will persist for decades if they don’t get wet, heavy, and break the tree. There may be 100 or more pairs of birds nesting in one nest. There are internal rooms that hold heat during the cold desert nights where the birds roost and then there are rooms on the edge that are simply shaded areas to get out of the daytime heat and sun. Nesting sites are a third sort of space within the apartment house.
Giraffes are part of Namibia’s landscape despite there being only sparse vegetation. In the northern part of the country they are easily seen in Etoshia where there is some woodland savanna habitat. In the central and southern parts of the country they are less common. Water is the key to the survival of the larger animals. Most large (vegetarian) animals need water several times a week, most need it daily. The smaller antelope can survive on moisture from plant but that is not the case with most of the larger ungulates. (See below regarding the Gemsbok or Oryx)
Where there is water there will be Impala and Oryx (Gemsbok) and Greater Kudu (below).
Birds of the desert are often insect or seed eaters. The Cape Sparrow is a common and widespread southern African bird. The workers out at Sossusvlei put out water in a saucer and attract dozens of this attractive sparrow.
The Giant Eagle-Owl below is not uncommon in the trees of the desert; but how often they eat is a good question. There are mice and rats and meercats and mongooses out there but many are diurnal and others not common. Yet there are often owls in thew area so there must be a solid web of life – top predators are exciting killers perhaps, but they are totally dependent of the weather, the plants, and the small mammals of their home turf.
The Pied Crow is a common and widespread bird. Like many of the corgis family they are not terribly picky about what they eat. they can survive in all sorts of habitats and find food just about anywhere.
The rather small Shovel-snouted Lizard feeds on insects in the dry shifting dunes.
The Namaqua Chameleon is an odd ball, but all true chameleons are a bit odd. The eye is in a turret and each eye can be moved separately from the other eye. The feet/toes are like something from Star Wars – as Sheldon Cooper says (hold up your hand like a chameleon) “may the force be with you”. But, whatever they look like, they are very successful and have been around the planet for a very long time. Like all chameleons they “shoot” out their tongue, slapping the prey with a gooy terminal end that gloms onto the poor food item and when the tongue is drawn back into the mouth along come the insect as well.
Mammals are in need of more energy in order to function in a hot-blooded way. Many of the desert mammals are small and the large ones (oryx etc) have adaptations to survive in the desert. The Southern african Ground Squirrel (the rodent above) comes in many habitat-adapted styles. They vary in color and a bit in size throughout their range.
The Meercat or Suricate is a member of the mongoose group and lived in groups of 5-40 animals. They dig tunnels and create a complex of rooms and passageways. They often stand straight and lean back on the tail as it were an extra leg.
Just one last picture of an elegant antelope. The oryx is a mammal that can survive its body temperature going as much as eight degrees during the day. During times when this happens they pant through their nose, this keeps the brain cool while the body is allowed to heat up. Our exhaled breath is very damp – it is said that an oryx exhales nearly dry air. The back is peaked from front to rear and this helps shed sunlight. They utilize all the moisture in their food and their droppings are very dry. The white belly reflects the reflected heat and sun from the sand on which they live. As the evening comes and the breezes build they often stand on top of ridges and dunes. It is thought that the location allows the animal to cool back down to it normal temperature.