Namibia protected areas & climate change

Branding Namibia’s parks and wildlife – a new logo
May 6, 2013
Saving lions, step by step
May 7, 2013
Branding Namibia’s parks and wildlife – a new logo
May 6, 2013
Saving lions, step by step
May 7, 2013

A new study forecasts that wildlife, tourism are wise investments

  • Text Linda Baker, Former SPAN Communications Officer
  • Photographs by Paul van Schalkwyk and SAIEA

Climate change is here. And its impact is expected to be far-reaching in the next generation. Consider too, that our population is predicted to reach three million by 2050.

Just how climate change will affect us is difficult to determine accurately. But it is forecast with a high degree of certainty that Namibia (and the rest of Southern Africa) can expect:

  • an average increase in temperature of between 2 to 6°C in the interior; 
  • our climate will become drier, rainfall variability is likely to increase and extreme events such as droughts and floods are likely to become more frequent and intense;
  • soil moisture levels are projected to decline;
  • we can expect crop failure and severe water shortages – impacting upon subsistence farming communities the most;
  • large parts of the country will become unsuitable for cattle farming; and
  • sea levels will rise.

We simply don’t know what will happen with the coastal fog system, which is known to be vital for most endemic and many other plant and animal species in the Namib.

Foggy coastline

Foggy coastline

All of this will affect the fishing and agricultural sectors, with small-stock farming replacing cattle farming in many areas. Crop farming is forecast to become unviable in many areas except the north-east, where floods are projected to become more likely. This will affect Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) negatively.

A range of statistics and studies show that the poor are likely to become poorer, with reduced employment opportunities, especially for unskilled labour.

To gauge the likely effects on Namibia’s biodiversity and ecosystems in our protected areas, the SPAN Project commissioned a study on the impacts of Climate Change on Namibia’s Protected Areas. The Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment (SAIEA) – in cooperation with the Namibia Nature Foundation and Anchor Environmental Consultants – successfully tendered to complete a comprehensive study; assessed the economic implications of climate-change-ascribed wildlife and biodiversity changes; and investigated feasible adaptation options.

Namib fences. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Namib fences. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

“It is going to impact us in a huge way, so we need to get ready for it,” says Dr Peter Tarr, Director of SAIEA.

When it comes to our environment, the study forecasts that we can expect:

  • more frequent flooding of a greater magnitude in Namibia’s northern rivers;
  • reduced inflows into the Etosha Pan, affecting the natural springs around the southern parts of the pan;
  • loss of species in many areas – particularly the Succulent Karoo – with local extinctions in this global biodiversity hotspot by 2050; and
  • a shift in Namibia’s main vegetation type from Grassy Savanna to Desert and Arid Shrubland by 2080. Ground cover will decline throughout much of the country. 

Warmer temperatures could result in significant changes in species distribution, composition and migration. Predictions are as follows: 

  • the south and south-west are expected to see the greatest increase in plant species numbers and the lowest proportion of species loss, while greater losses are expected in the central, northern and eastern areas; 
  • about seven per cent of plant species could shift their distribution range out of Namibia entirely; with 52 per cent of species showing range contractions and 41 per cent showing range expansions;
  • there could be an average decline in wildlife grazers by about 13 per cent by 2050 and about 24 per cent by 2080; 
  • none of the ranges of plains game species are likely to retreat out of any of the national parks;
  • springbok and gemsbok are likely to expand their ranges to the Bwabwata National Park; and
  • Human wildlife conflict with species such as elephants could increase due to pressure on habitats.
Flooding in Owambo. Photo: ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Flooding in Owambo. Photo: ©Paul van Schalkwyk

But it’s not all doom and gloom. “There is hope,” says Dr Tarr. “By making the switch now – by drought-proofing ourselves – we can meet the challenges of climate change and get ahead of the game.”

How do we do this? “We have to look at Namibia’s comparative advantages. These include investing in our wildlife and our scenery,” continues Dr Tarr. “It makes sense to start investing in wildlife and wildlife-based tourism. Wildlife is more adaptable and suited to Namibia’s habitat than activities such as stock and crop farming.”

A study undertaken by SAIEA in 2010 showed that even if Namibia were to become drier, it would not significantly affect the willingness of tourists to visit.

And most of our wildlife is already adapted to our harsh climate. While some species will shift their ranges slightly, few of our large mammals are expected to be affected seriously.

“It will be imperative, however, to take down fences along some park boundaries, particularly in areas along the western escarpment such as the Namib-Naukluft and Sperrgebiet national parks, where wildlife numbers may crash following periods of prolonged drought if fences remain in place.


“Mobility is the key adaptation by plains game to arid savanna systems. By making sure there are open systems across which these animals can roam freely, we will be ensuring the survival of these animals,” concludes Dr Tarr. This means working with park neighbours to manage open landscapes and ecosystems jointly.

The studies show that as areas in western Namibia become more arid, Khaudum, Bwabwata and Mudumu will become strategic for woodlands ungulates.

More frequent flooding along the inland rivers may favour wetland species such as hippopotamus, sitatunga, lechwe, reedbuck, puku, otters, crocodile, wetland birds such as fish eagle, wattled crane, ducks, storks and many others, as well as fish, mollusks and other aquatic invertebrates. There should be favourable habitats for fish recruitment and production, for both subsistence and tourism – providing the rivers are not dammed or drained for irrigation schemes.

North-eastern areas should also become more suitable habitats for white rhino by 2050.

New habitats should be considered for some of our more precious wildlife. For instance, the range of the black-faced impala could be expanded into the Otavi mountains. New populations of black rhino should be started in areas such as the Khaudum and /Ai-/Ais national parks, and in the Nyae-Nyae and N≠a_Jaqna conservancies. 

Transboundary conservation initiatives and open systems across international borders should be maintained and further explored.

The study recommends several strategies to be adopted, including:

  • encouraging the carefully controlled production of charcoal and fuel wood, and possibly small-scale power generation to manage bush encroachment;
  • adopting Integrated Water Resource Management, including measures to increase water supply and reduce demand;
  • introducing well-designed biodiversity monitoring programmes in parks;
  • diversifying livelihoods, including building capacity in this regard; 
  • addressing natural resource shortages through improved natural resource management;
  • increasing the focus on rangeland and natural resource management, and shifts into conservation-oriented business. This would involve building on existing programmes such as CBNRM; and
  • exploring opportunities for types of carbon projects, such as concentrated solar power and small-scale biomass energy production. Meanwhile, Namibia should also apply for adaptation funding to meet some of the challenges that lie ahead. 

Other recommendations include strengthening the policy environment to create incentives for the growth of businesses and enterprises around these, developing and nurturing partnerships, and removing bottlenecks.

Black Rhino by Paul van Schalkwyk (

Black Rhino by Paul van Schalkwyk (

The study states that Namibia’s farming systems are on the arid margins of viability. The impacts of projected climate change on these production systems are expected to be severe. It is expected that the decline – or in some cases failure – of traditional and conventional forms of land use in Namibia’s rural areas will have a greater (though indirect) impact on biodiversity than the direct impacts of climate change. This is because people will be forced to use wildlife and other natural resources much more in the future than they do today, in order to survive. There is thus an urgent need to strategically rethink the adaptive responses of both production and conservation planning in this country over the next few decades.

It recommends that reconfiguring landscapes and increasing size and connectivity of the conservation network is the best way to enable wildlife to adapt to climate change.

The study concludes that: ‘Improved management of natural resources and rangelands is vital. This doesn’t necessarily mean extending the state national parks, but rather extending the development of community and private conservation areas within the conservation network, particularly in those areas targeted as key in relation to losses in biodiversity. Building on Namibia’s highly acclaimed CBNRM programme is recommended.’

In the case of transforming the protected areas patchwork into a protected areas network, and expanding and diversifying CBNRM activities, the benefits are anticipated to be greater than just the offsetting of potential losses due to climate change.

This article was originally published in the 2013 Conservation and the Environment in Namibia magazine. 

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