Common questions about Namibia wildlife
The “Big Five” are not actually the five biggest animals in Africa, but the five most dangerous to hunt. They are: the elephant, the black rhino, the leopard, the Cape buffalo, and the lion. All of these can be seen in Etosha National Park except for the buffalo. Buffalo can only be seen either at Waterberg Plateau National Park, where they have been introduced, or in the far north-east of Namibia. They naturally occur there, in the Zambezi region parks, for example in Mahangu National Park and Bwabwata National Park.
Meerkats (suricates) are only found in the Kalahari and Kgalagadi deserts, so can only be seen in the far east and south-east of Namibia. In the rest of Namibia, ground-squirrels and various mongoose species are common instead.
The Burchell’s plains zebra is the more common zebra, seen throughout Etosha and across Namibia in parks and reserves with grassy plains. You can distinguish it by the grey-brown ‘shadow stripes’ between the normal black-stripes, and stripes that continue under the belly. The Hartmann’s mountain zebra, as its name suggests, is only found in areas with rocky hills, mountains and escarpments. For example in the west of Etosha, in much of Damaraland, in the Naukluft mountains, and around the Fish River canyon. They can be distinguished by their thinner, more densely-packed stripes, without shadow-stripes, which go all the way down their legs, but which stop above their white belly.
One animal that catches people out is the juvenile gemsbok oryx (see photo above). The calves of this species are a different colour to the adults (an orangy-beige instead of grey). Their horns also start growing just after birth, so they can easily be mistaken for an adult of another species. They are also often left in crèche groups with only one adult, who may often be standing quite a long way from them.
Damara dikdiks, the smallest antelopes in Namibia, are very specific about their habitat. They only live where there is good short tree cover (to hide from eagles) but enough space to move freely underneath. South of Etosha, you can try to spot them near the turn-off to the D2710 and the D2695. And in the central-eastern part of the Park, only around Klein Namutoni waterhole and Dikdik Drive. They are mostly active around sunrise and dusk. They are bluish-grey in colour, with russet-coloured legs and very large eyes. If you see a small antelope anywhere else in Etosha, orangish in colour, then it is likely the larger and more common steenbok. Both are only ever seen alone or in groups of 2-3, and are generally shy. The exception is at the Waterberg NWR camp, where numerous dikdiks are habituated to people.