Namib Desert, Southwestern Africa

One of the oldest and largest deserts, the Namib stretches inland from the Atlantic Ocean, covering large swathes of Namibia and parts of Angola and South Africa. This arid hotspot surprisingly supports a diverse number of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.


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Sand dunes. Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon

Life in the desert

Lying between a high inland plateau and the Atlantic Ocean, the Namib Desert extends along the coast of Namibia, merging with the Kaokoveld Desert into Angola in the north and south with the Karoo Desert in South Africa.

Throughout this vast and unforgiving landscape, a number of animals and plants have adapted to life here, including the mountain zebra (Equus zebra), gemsbok (Oryx Gazella), short-eared elephant shrew (Macroscelides proboscideus), Grant's golden mole (Eremitalpa granti), Karoo bustard (Eupodotis vigorsii) and Peringuey's adder (Bitis peringueyi).

There is also an extraordinary diversity of succulent plants, as well as the shrub-like Welwitschia mirabilis, which has only 2 leaves and can live for over 1,000 years!


Local conservation

Although large parts of this desert region are protected, it still faces threats from unsustainable land practices, mining and illegal plant harvesting.

One unique way of protecting Namibia's biodiversity has been through the WWF-supported conservancy movement, which gives local communities responsibility and right of ownership over their natural resources and wildlife. Any profit generated by the conservancy's activities - guide services, eco-tourist facilities or controlled hunting - is invested back into the community.
 / ©: Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon
Namaqua dwarf adder camouflaged in the sand. Namib Desert, Namibia.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon

Desert elephants

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
A recent count found approximately 500 African elephants in north-west Namibia.
© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Namibia is home to a unique population of elephants that have adapted to the arid, and sometimes inhospitable, climate.
Found mostly in the Damaraland region in the northwest part of the country, these "desert" elephants can go for days without drinking water, surviving on moisture obtained from the vegetation they eat.

Although not a different species or subspecies than other African elephants, they have larger feet, making it easier to walk through sand, and often live in smaller herds, which puts less pressure on their food and water sources.
 / ©: Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser / WWF-Canon
The Namib Desert's Welwitschia mirabilis plant can live for over 1,000 years.
© Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser / WWF-Canon
 / ©: Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon
Known as the Spirit of the Desert, gemsbok have adapted to life in the Namib.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon

Where is the Namib region?

The Namib region is highlighted in yellow:


View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

Facts & Figures

    • The Namib-Karoo-Kaokoveld desert region covers an area of 806,000km2 (or 311,00 square miles).
    • Some 3,500 species of plants are found here, about half of which are endemic.
    • Namib means "vast" in the Nama language.
    • Existing for at least 55 million years, the Namib is one of the oldest deserts in the world.
    • Some of the world's tallest sand dunes (over 300m) are found in the Namib Desert.
    • Temperatures can reach as high as 60°C during the day and below 0°C at night; some areas receive less than 10mm of rain each year.

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