National Parks

Skeleton Coast Park

Skeleton Coast Park

Location: The coastal area north of the Ugab River to the Angolan border.

Covering 1.6 million hectares, the Skeleton Coast Park remains one of the world’s last great wildernesses. Proclaimed in its present form in 1973, it extends from the Ugab River in the south for 500 km to the Kunene River in the north and about 40 km inland. Dense coastal fogs and cold sea breezes caused by the cold Benguela Current add atmosphere to the windswept beaches that are littered with shipwrecks, bones and other debris.

The park also contains rich lichen fields (more than 100 species have been recorded), is a sanctuary for desert-dwelling elephants, rhino and lion and the Kunene River mouth is a vital wetland.

Natural features: The Atlantic Ocean, with sandy and pebble beaches, sand dunes, ephemeral riverbeds and canyons to rugged canyons with walls of richly coloured volcanic rock and extensive mountain ranges.

Vegetation: Namib Desert Biome. Vegetation type: Northern Desert, Central Desert, North-Western Escarpment and Inselbergs. Lichens, dollar bush (Zygophyllum stapfii), narra plant (Acanthosicyos horridus), vygies (Mesembryanthemum sp) on plains. In dry riverbeds makalani palm (Hyphaene petersiana), wild tamarisk (Tamarix usneoides) and mopane trees (Colophospermum mopane).

Wildlife: Desert-dwelling elephant, lion and black rhino. Cheetah, crocodile, springbok, Hartmann’s zebra, gemsbok, Heaviside’s dolphin, green turtle. The 306 bird species recorded here include greater flamingo, lesser flamingo, lappet-faced vulture, Rüppell’s korhaan and Gray’s lark.

Tourism: Photography. Game viewing. Angling. A fishing licence must be obtained before entering the Skeleton Coast Park. Double rooms and one beach chalet, restaurant, bar and freezing facilities at Terrace Bay. Entrance only with a booking. Camping at Terrace Bay is permitted only during December and January. Booking essential. There is an exclusive fly-in tourism concession for the northern section of the park.

Conservation successes

The Skeleton Coast Park has no fences, no artificial waterholes, and no active ecological management programmes. The ‘hands-off approach’ is considered best. Many wildlife species, including desert dwelling elephants and lions, rely upon the numerous west flowing rivers (known as ‘linear oases’) that thread through the park for survival. While rivers rarely flow, underground water and springs in the river beds nourish vegetation, riparian forest, and provide water, food, breeding grounds and shelter.

The Skeleton Coast Park is also home to roaring dunes, fossilised dunes, ancient lava flows and castles of clay. There are over 100 lichen species with more still to be discovered and their role is essential to the park ecology.

The northern border of the park is the Kunene River which rises in the remote Angolan highlands and is one of Namibia’s few perennial rivers and one of the country’s only two permanent estuaries. Historically it supported large numbers of game species but these have largely been hunted out. In terms of bird species diversity it is richer than any other Namibian wetland.

Key management issues

Off-road driving leaves scars that can remain for centuries. Uncontrolled access into the park for angling is sometimes a problem.