Etosha National Park

Country/territory: Namibia

IBA Criteria met: A1, A3, A4i, A4iii (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 2,291,200 ha

Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2001 very high not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
Etosha, ‘the great white place’, is enclosed within a National Park c.400 km north of Windhoek and 120 km south of the Angolan border. The primary feature within the park is the Etosha Pan, a saltpan some 4,760 km² in size, up to 129 km long and 72 km wide, covering almost one-quarter of the park. Numerous smaller salt and clay pans exist to the west and north of the main pan, some of which lie just outside the park boundaries. The park comprises an area of closed drainage on the great African plateau. Most of the year the pan lies dry, appearing barren and desolate, but during the wet season it is inundated with water from the Ekuma and Oshigambo rivers, which drain catchments in former Ovamboland and southern Angola. Inflow from the east through the Omuramba Ovambo may also be important in flooding Fischer’s Pan and the southern ancient river course on the pan. The extent of the flooding is dependent on the amount of rain that falls in the catchment area, and not on surface rainfall. In exceptionally rainy years the pan becomes a shallow lake a few centimetres deep.

Geologically the area comprises calcareous sand, gravel and limestone with dolomite outcrops in the west. Soils are shallow and alkaline. The temperature is one of extremes, ranging from below freezing on some winter nights to above 45°C during the day in midsummer. Pan surface temperatures can then reach 60°C. The vegetation is primarily arid savanna, shrub and thorn scrub in the west, tending towards tree-savanna and broadleaved woodland in the east. Acacia woodland is found throughout the region. Patches of mopane Colophospermum and Combretum woodland are also characteristic of the park, especially in the eastern broadleaved savanna belt.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The park supports at least 340 bird species. The main pan is of particular importance as large numbers of both Phoenicopterus ruber and P. minor regularly breed here when rainfall exceeds 440 mm per year. Historically, up to 1.1 million flamingos have been recorded in years of exceptional rain. Etosha is one of only two regular breeding sites for these species in southern Africa, the other being Sua Pan in the Makgadikgadi Pans (BW005) in Botswana. Unfortunately, breeding success is very limited, and the pan cannot be considered to hold a viable breeding population. In recent years the pan has regularly held over 20,000 waterbirds during the wet season. Apart from flamingos, Pelecanus onocrotalus and Charadrius pallidus also breed here in large numbers in years of good rainfall. Rarities are also attracted at such times and Egretta vinaceigula and Aenigmatolimnas marginalis are unusual visitors. The pan and its surrounding grassveld are also good for Palearctic migrants, including important numbers of Glareola nordmanni and Charadrius asiaticus. Etosha also supports the only breeding population of Grus paradisea outside South Africa—a tiny population of about 60 birds, known to have declined in the last 10 years.

The park is particularly rich in raptors with 46 species recorded. It supports all vultures found in Namibia, including Gyps coprotheres, Torgos tracheliotus and the locally rare Neophron percnopterus. Scavengers such as Aquila rapax and Terathopius ecaudatus are particularly common, since they are unaffected by poisons here.

Non-bird biodiversity: Among mammals, threatened species include Acinonyx jubatus (VU), Loxodonta africana (EN), Diceros bicornis bicornis (CR) and Equus zebra hartmannae (EN), while Aepyceros melampus petersi is endemic and Madoqua kirkii is near-endemic to Namibia; efforts to reintroduce Lycaon pictus (EN) have failed thus far. Reptiles include Python sebae, P. anchietae, Psammobates oculiferus, Geochelone pardalis and Agama etoshae.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Etosha National Park. Downloaded from on 01/04/2023.