Namib-Naukluft Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This massive conservation area, one of the largest in Africa, incorporates a large portion of the Namib desert, which some authorities consider the oldest desert in the world. The park comprises gravel-plains of intensely weathered rock, with some gypsum crusts, calcrete and desert pavement. River canyons are intermittent and sand-filled. Extensive sand-dunes, which form a dune sea, run parallel to the coastline for up to 120 km inland. The Naukluft mountains are part of the high-rising escarpment that marks the western edge of the interior highlands of Namibia. The flat, plateau-like summit of the mountain complex is separated from the adjacent highland plateau to the south by impressive near-vertical cliffs, while in the north-west and west its highest peaks loom almost 1,000 m above the plains of the Namib desert.

The Naukluft forms part of a large triangular plateau, which is higher than the main Namibian Plateau and separated from it by almost unbroken cliffs, 500 m high. The plateau consists mainly of dolomite and limestone formations. Dissolution of the dolomite and limestone by waters over many millennia has given rise to karstification of the plateau and an extensive underground drainage system. In some of the deeply incised kloofs, discharge from this underground reservoir occurs as crystal-clear springs and streams. Soils are shallow except on the less pronounced slopes. The southern portion of these mountains holds the Sesriem Canyon, where the Tsauchab river has carved a spectacular gorge into the gravels deposited some 15–18 million years ago. It is thought that the Tsauchab once flowed to the Atlantic Ocean, but that it was blocked by encroaching sand-dunes some 70 km inland approximately 60,000 years ago. Over thousands of years the Tsauchab river has, nevertheless, managed to keep open parts of its course, ending at Sossusvlei, a clay pan 65 km south-west of Sesriem.

The sand-dune desert has its origin at the mouth of the Orange river, eventually coalescing into a vast sea of dunes north of Lüderitz. The sand sea is abruptly halted by the Kuiseb river, which forms an impenetrable barrier, 400 km to the north.Vegetation is extremely sparse on the shifting dunes of the sand-sea; occasionally grassy pockets of dune grass Stipagrostis develop in more stable slacks. Following good rainfall, grasses also develop on the gravel-plains, which are otherwise mostly devoid of cover. Plants that can tolerate the extreme aridity on a permanent basis include the lichens and succulents that dominate on inselbergs and pegmatite dykes, making use of moisture in the fog and dew. The plains hold the bizarre Welwitschia mirabilis, the only species of its family.The riverbeds near the coast are colonized by Tamarix, Lycium and Salsola and inland by a denser growth of Acacia and Faidherbia. The fruit of the !Nara Acanthosicyos horridus, which occurs in the Kuiseb river valley, is a valuable source of water and nutrition in the desert. The vegetation of the Naukluft mountains is complex and relatively diverse, owing to the wide variation in aspect and soil.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The park is rich in raptors, and Sagittarius serpentarius, Gyps africanus, Torgos tracheliotus, Aquila rapax, Polemaetus bellicosus and Falco rupicoloides are very common. Trigonoceps occipitalis, Circus macrourus, C. maurus and Falco naumanni are less common. In the east, the Naukluft mountains hold breeding Aquila verreauxii, Ciconia nigra and probably a few pairs of Bubo capensis. Several characteristic species of the Namib–Karoo biome reach the northern limit of the distributions in the southern portion of the park, including Eupodotis vigorsii, Sylvia layardi, Eremomela gregalis, Euryptila subcinnamomea, Serinus alario and Eremopterix australis.

Other species more typical of northern Namibia penetrate the northern section of the park around the Naukluft mountains, including Francolinus hartlaubi, Poicephalus rueppellii, Tockus monteiri, Namibornis herero, Achaetops pycnopygius, Monticola brevipes and Lanioturdus torquatus. Typical desert-dune and gravel-plain species include Ardeotis kori, Neotis ludwigii, Eupodotis rueppellii, Cursorius rufus, C. temminckii, Rhinoptilus africanus, Certhilauda erythrochlamys, Ammomanes grayi, Eremalauda starki, Cercomela schlegelii, C. tractrac and Malcorus pectoralis.The coastline holds roosting and foraging areas for Haematopus moquini, Sterna balaenarum, Phalacrocorax neglectus, P. coronatus, and large numbers of Sterna hirundo. The coastline also holds the only mainland breeding colony of Spheniscus demersus in Namibia. When wet, Sossusvlei holds several waterbird species, including flamingos.

Non-bird biodiversity: This park supports many species that are endemic to Namibia and to the small portion of Angola into which the Namib desert extends. Unique threatened or endemic plants include Aloe namibensis, A. sladeniana, A. karasbergensis, Welwitschia mirabilis, Lithops schwantesii, Trichocaulon spp. and Myrothamnus flabellifolius. Interesting endemic invertebrates include Onymacris unguicularis and Lepidochora spp. Reptiles include Palmatogecko rangei, Aporosaura anchietae and Bitis peringueyi. Endemic and/or threatened mammals include Eremitalpa granti (VU), Gerbillarus tytonis, Acinonyx jubatus (VU) and Equus zebra hartmannae (EN).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Namib Desert National Park was first established as a game reserve in 1907. The Sandwich Harbour area (NA014) was incorporated into the game reserve in 1941. In 1956, the name was changed to the Namib Desert Park, and the reserve was enlarged to include the Kuiseb Canyon, Swakop river valley, and the Welwitschia Plains. In 1966, the Naukluft farm was purchased and two years later the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park was established. The parks were amalgamated in 1979 by a 30-km-wide corridor; the size increased from 2,244,150 ha to its present size in 1984. The area was officially proclaimed as a National Park in 1986 when the remainder of Diamond Area II was added under Nature Conservation Ordinance No. 31.

The Topnaar Hottentots have lived in the Kuiseb river valley for many generations. They farm goats and cattle and are permanently resident in the park. Illegal nomadic farming on the Kuiseb flood-plain is a conservation concern and is being stopped. Three large inactive mining concessions remain in the park. Prospecting in the region prior to park establishment has left visible scars in several areas. Natural migration patterns of Oryx gazella may be forced to change because the numerous springs of the escarpment are being utilized too intensively. The area has been well studied, particularly through the endeavours of the Desert Ecological Research Institute, which was established in 1963 and is located at Gobabeb on the banks of the Kuiseb river. Studies have concentrated on the physiological and behavioural adaptations of beetles, ants and lizards to extreme desert conditions.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Namib-Naukluft Park. Downloaded from on 07/12/2022.