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Wetland wildlife

7.49 Large wildlife species of the northeastern wetlands

7.49 thumbnail

7.49 thumbnail


The Zambezi Region in northeastern Namibia is a refuge for many animals that depend on wetland habitats, and therefore do not occur in other parts of Namibia. This region is quite different in character from other parts of the country and its wildlife reflects this. Habitats here include broad seasonal and ephemeral floodplains adjacent to perennial rivers bordered by riparian forests and open woodland, as well as some permanent marshes and wetlands. Wildlife moves freely between Namibia and the neighbouring countries (figures 7.47 and 7.48). As well as large herds of buffalo and congregations of species such as hippo, the area is also important for less common and more cryptic mammal species such as sable antelope, roan, tsessebe and sitatunga.

Numbers of some wildlife species in Namibia's northeast wetlands, 201768

Species Estimated population
Buffalo Syncerus caffer 9,070
Burchell's zebra Equus quagga burchellii 1,820
Common impala Aepyceros melampus 1,380
Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus 660
Elephant Loxodonta africana 2,130
Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius 3,300
Red lechwe Kobus leche 5,010
Reedbuck Redunca arundinum 500
Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus 190

Photo: A Jarvis

The Mahangu and Buffalo floodplain area in Kavango East and Bwabwata National Park is a Ramsar site and supports a particularly high diversity of birds and other wildlife such as these crocodiles.


Photo: P Beytell

The Kwando River and especially Nkasa Rupara National Park is a key area for Namibia's hippos. Outside protected areas they may graze on crops resulting in conflict with people.

Ephemeral wetlands

Ephemeral wetlands – areas that are seasonally or occasionally flooded – are bustling concentrations of production and new life. During dry periods, aquatic plants die down and their nutrients are returned to the underlying soil, lying dormant until rain or floodwaters next arrive.

In the wet season, the entire landscape is transformed. For each permanent tree or bush, thousands of individual grasses, forbs and fungi blanket the ground; for each mammal there are now tens of thousands of insects, mites, millipedes and spiders, for instance. This life emerges from the ground. These wetlands are the only places where many insects, crustaceans, amphibians, fish and birds breed in profusion, fuelled by the great volumes of food produced when nutrients lying dormant in the earth are mobilised by the water and taken up into production. Migrant birds from the northern hemisphere, as well as regional migrants, pour in to take advantage of the abundant resources.

Namibia's most important temporary wetlands are around Tsumkwe, Lake Liambezi, the Cuvelai and its saline grasslands, and in seasonal floodplains along the Okavango, Zambezi and Kwando rivers. Their value in producing life is considerable.


Photo: J Mendelsohn

Lake Liambezi is a striking example of how productive ephemeral wetlands can be, even supporting a highly productive fishery when full.


Photo: K-U Denker


Photo: K-U Denker

!Abi Pan and a network of other pans near Tsumkwe transform periodically into an important wetland habitat which supports an abundance of birds and other wildlife. The contrast between the pan during a dry season and a wet season is striking.


Photo: A Jarvis

Sossusvlei and the adjacent dunes are usually dry and dramatic but the area becomes even more spectacular when inundated, such as in April 2021, when unusual visitors such as white storks were reported.


Photo: K Roberts

This tadpole shrimp (Triops granarius) lives in temporary pools of water. Its eggs are adapted to survive the extended hot and dry periods which occur after the water dries up; they hatch months or years later when the pool fills up again.