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My first trip to Namibia was a family holiday, so I needed to try and fit my mammal watching around two small children. I guess the trip was quite successful in that the kids seemed to enjoy it and we also saw quite a few of the animals I was hoping to see. Though of course had I been alone I would have visited some different places and probably seen a little more in my 9 days there.
Namibia is large and wonderfully sparsely populated. It is an easy country to travel round, with friendly people, wonderful scenery, good roads, little crime and prolific wildlife. Accommodation can be quite expensive, especially when compared with neighbouring South Africa, though there are some fabulous places to say. I went in May, early in the dry season and not the best season for game viewing: August through October – the end of the dry season – are the best months, at least in the north and centre of the country.
Erongo Wilderness Lodge
Although Black Mongooses were regular in the dry season (when the lodge leaves out food scraps near the restaurant) they hadn’t been seen for several months. I was later told that the Erongo Mountains are the best places to look for this species. Rock Hyraxes are abundant around the lodge. At 6am near the restaurant (on the large boulders about 100m in front) I saw a Western (Smith's) Rock Elephant Shrew - another animal apparently lives closer to the restaurant and is frequently seen though not by me. At about 7.30am the first Dassie Rat appeared near the restaurant, scampering around the rocks under the balcony. An hour later a pair of Damara Dik-Diks were at the waterhole in front of the restaurant.
Chacma Baboons were common in the concession. Game viewing is pretty sparse in May, but we took an afternoon drive to Paula’s Cave, a bushman rock art site. Bats were obviously using the cave, but I suppose primarily as a night roost, because there were none in there. On the way back in the dark I stuck the spotlight on and saw an African Wild Cat in a dry river bed, several groups of Kudu, a couple of Scrub Hares and a Small Spotted Genet (either G. genetta or G. felina but i wouldn't swear to which) near camp. The driver was quite impressed with the amount we had seen.
Etosha is one of Africa’s finest national parks and certainly one of the most impressive I have been to. I stayed at the Okaukeujo Rest Camp, the main HQ of the park. It was not the most attractive camp, and quite large and busy, but it was pleasant enough. Its main attraction is the floodlit waterhole which attracts a good amount of game. Although the camp felt quite crowded, the national park wasn't. There is no problem taking your own vehicle into the park between sunrise and sunset but night drives are not allowed on your own (3 hour night drives were available at the camp).
Springbok, Gemsbok and Burchell's Zebra were very common, interspersed with smaller numbers of Blue Wildebeest.
In the woodlands around the Aus waterhole Black-faced Impala were the dominant ungulate with a few Steenbok, Red Hartebeest and Kudus.
Giraffes were fairly easy to see close to Okaukeujo camp, and there were four Lions at the Nebrowni waterhole on every drive. I saw one Cape Fox and a Yellow Mongoose near Okakeujo: the road from Okaukuejo to Okondeker is apparently the best place to see Cape Foxes.
Black-backed Jackals were common within the campground and around the waterholes: I squeaked in one Jackal and it came right up to the car. South African Ground Squirrels were common in the campground in the day.
There were several Black Rhinos at the Okakeujo waterhole during the first evening, and they were joined by a pair of White Rhinos and an Elephant for my second evening there. An African Wild Cat was hunting along the fence at the water hole too.
I took one of the organised night drives. It was not very good. The guy driving was also holding the spotlight which wasn't optimal. Moreover he had a red filter on the light the whole time. Maybe this is a park rule or maybe his personal preference but it didn’t help us find animals I reckon (Red filters are fine once you get onto something but I don't think they are very good for finding things). During three cold hours we didn’t see a great deal of interest other than a few Spotted Hyenas and a couple of Lions sleeping at a waterhole.
Egyptian Slit Faced Bats (Nycteris thebaica) were common around the camp at night using the netting in the porches as a feeding roost.
Dormice were also living in the camp buildings – I saw the first on the fly screen of the door that also crawled into bed in the night. Tim had caught a few and though they looked like Rock Dormice they were much smaller than that species is supposed to be so I put them down as Woodland Dormice. I set a few Sherman small mammal traps around the camp and caught a Namaqua Rock Mouse and Woodland Dormouse, both in the woodpile.
Tim and I spent 3 hours scrambling around the needle sharp rocks looking for Jameson’s Rock Rabbits. We found plenty of latrine sites but no rabbits. We also saw a few Kaokeveld Rock Dassie's (Procavia capensis welwiitschii) which was formerly thought to be a species in its own right, but is now generally considered a subspecies now of P. capensis.
We also spent time looking for Round-eared Elephant Shrews which live on the property. They hang out in thickets of cataphraxis (a grey-green shrub that looks to my unbotanical eye quite like Australian saltbush). Again we were unlucky: we found a few runs but didn’t flush any animals.
Hobatere Lodge is another great spot to stay – Namibia has, it seems, more than its fare share of luxurious - without being over the top – bush lodges. Hobatere is run by Steve and Louise Braine, well known Namibian naturalists, who were very helpful on where to find stuff.
Steve confirmed that the Ground Squirrel I had seen crossing the track into camp (about 5 km from the lodge) was a Mountain Ground Squirrel (Xerus princeps) – it was alone and in a rocky outcrop so the habitat was right. We spotted a Klipspringer on the way in too. An afternoon game drive produced lots and lots of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras, Springboks, and Gemsboks as well as a few Giraffes and Black-backed Jackals.
I drove down the track towards the gate in the evening for 45 minutes with my spotlight and saw a Scrub Hare, an African Wildcat and a Cape Fox along the way.
Hobatere Campsite is back on the main road (about 1km before the turn off to the lodge) and is a good spot for Rock Rabbits and Black Mongooses. A PhD student from the University of Queensland was radio tracking Black Mongooses there and so I visited at dawn the following day and saw the researcher just as she was leaving camp. I didn’t have time to arrange to help check the traps or radio track but she did advise that the Mongooses were shy and the best bet of seeing one there was to sit quietly from a vantage point. She reckoned they were easier to see in the Erongo Mountains. Jameson’s Rock Rabbits were in the area and I found one sitting on a rock on the ridge that runs east-west just 100m west of the camp site. It took me half an hour to find a latrine site and I saw the Rabbit a few seconds later sitting on a boulder at 7am. I got to within 10 metres before it hared off. There were three Klipspringers in camp at dawn.
Back at the lodge I waited until after breakfast to see a Striped Tree Squirrel (aka Congo Rope Squirrel) that are common in the lodge gardens.
The Skeleton Coast
Terrace Bay, the end of the public road north along the Skeleton Coast feels damn near like the end of the earth. Its a starkly beautiful place with a comfortable if expensive government run rest camp. Its also a good spot for Brown Hyenas, an animal that I wanted to see in Namibia more than any other.
On the way in to Terrace Bay from Hobatere we saw a few Gemsbok and Springbok in the desert and along the coast and there were some Black-backed Jackals around camp. Hyenas could be anywhere I was told, and were regularly seen in the camp at night. The fish cleaning station there was a good spot to look.
I took a drive south along the road at 9pm and was stopped 20 minutes later by two rangers. Driving in the park at night is not allowed, hadn't I read my permit? Yes, I said, my permit said I had to be in camp by 10pm. No, no... I didn't read it properly. We will show you back in camp. I got my permit. They searched it for the "no driving at night clause". There wasn't one. But the rangers didn't admit that and so let me off with a warning. I spent the next couple of hours cruising around the campsite but no Hyenas, and none the next morning when I left at 6am for another look.
The Cape Cross seal colony is another good Hyena location where the local population feeds well on the pups from the 100,000 strong South African Fur Seal colony. The colony is an impressive spectacle but unfortunately its only open between 10am and 5pm so Hyena spotting is unlikely. There were several Jackals around at 3pm including one with mange that looked uncannily like what I thought a young Brown Hyena might look like. Wishful thinking....
I spent several hours spotlighting that night in a last ditch effort for a Hyena. A dead Fin Whale was on the beach at Jakkalsputz, just south of Henties Bay. It was smelling pretty ripe - and getting riper by the day as the harbour authority and national parks argued over who was supposed to dispose of it. But there was nothing feeding on it. I saw a few Jackals there and more back at Cape Cross, and also a Hairy-footed Gerbil on the beach at Jackkalsputz.
Stuff I Missed
I deliberately did not set my expectations too high for this trip given the kids were around. A Brown Hyena would have been great, but I needed to spend a couple of extra nights on the Skeleton Coast to have had more of a chance I think. Black Mongooses are often seen in the Erongo Mountains, and would have been nice. The Round-eared Elephant Shrews at Tandala are findable and others have reported Commerson's Leaf-nosed Bats from several locations, while Trevor Hardaker saw the endemic Seltzer's Gerbil inland from Swakopmund. Heaviside's Dolphins are easy to see around Walvis Bay on organised dolphin watching trips.
Finally, its worth looking under the bridge at Swakopmund for Littledale’s Whistling Rats. I didn’t get there. But if you are in the area then try contacting John Visser who would be happy to show you the colony there or another larger colony north of town. There are Brandt's Whistling Rats in the area too on the harder ground.
Other People's Trip Reports
Namibia, 2012: Sjef Ollers, 16 days & 45 species including Aardvark, Cape Fox, Honey Badger and Aardwolf.
Southern Africa, 2009 (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa): Coke Smith, 7 weeks and 118 species and subspecies including Caracal and Aardvark.
Namibia, 2008: Trevor Hardaker, 2 weeks and 45 mammals including Damara Ground Squirrel, Western Rock Elephant Shrew and Dassie Rat.
Namibia, 2008: Ignacio Yúfera, 2 weeks and 37 mammals including Commerson's Leaf-nosed Bat.
Don Roberson's trip reports for trips to Kenya, Gabon, Uganda and South-West Africa (South Africa, Namibia and the Okavango).
The Kalahari and the Cape, 2002: Richard Webb, 2 weeks & lots of mammals (including a Brown Hyena and a Caracal).
South Africa and Namibia, 1999: Richard Webb, 3 weeks & 50+ mammals (including an Aardvark).