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Home The River Basin People and the River Governance Resource Management
The River Basin
Climate and Weather
Water Quality
Ecology & Biodiversity
 Aquatic Ecology
 Biodiversity in the Basin
 Eco-regions & Hotspots
Biodiversity Resources & Protected Areas
 Human Impacts



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Biodiversity Resources and Protected Areas  

The driving force of life is fresh water, especially in the parched landscapes and deserts of the lower Kunene. Here, the river is a lifeline for animals and plants. The isolation of important Wetlands such as the Etosha pan, and the Kunene River mouth, which is about 700 km away from the nearest permanent wetland makes them important staging areas for birds and mammals.

Important protected areas of the basin are presented in this section under the titles:

  • Challenges for Biodiversity Protection;
  • Description of Protected Areas in the Basin.
Protected areas in the Kunene River basin.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2010, after Atlas of Namibia Project 2002
( click to enlarge )

Challenges for Biodiversity Protection

Protected areas have been designated to preserve the biodiversity and to support sustainable livelihoods of the people living in, and around the parks (see section on Ecotourism). The Skeleton Coast National Park and the Etosha National Park in Namibia are the most precious resources. They draw tourists and generate benefits for the protection of biodiversity and the support of local communities.

Unfortunately, years of devastation and uncontrolled hunting during the conflict in Angola have decimated  most of the wildlife in many areas. Efforts are underway to improve protection of biodiversity for example through a restocking scheme called Noah’s Ark Project  in Kissama National Park.

Finding a balance between the improvement of livelihoods of farmers, and pastoralists who live inside the parks, and the protection of biodiversity resources is a challenge for Angola particularly as tourism is in its infancy, and most parks are unable to generate sufficient funds.

Description of Protected Areas in the Basin

Protected Areas in the Kunene River Basin include:

  • Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia;
  • Iona National Park, Angola;
  • Bicuar National Park, Angola; and
  • Mupa National Park, Angola.

A Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) is envisaged combining the Iona National Park in Angola with the contiguous Skeleton Coast National Park in Namibia. Kunene River Mouth coastal wetland would be at the centre of this TFCA. 

Comprehensive information on protected areas can be accessed through the World Data Base on Protected Areas at  

The Kunene River basin is particularly interesting due to its diverse avifauna or bird fauna. Fact sheets, and further information can be accessed on the website of Birdlife International at

Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia

Located on the southern border of the Lower Kunene watershed it stretches for 500 km along the desert coastline of Namibia. The name of the park derives from the skeletons of shipwrecks that litter the coastline. Proclaimed as a national park in 1971 it covers an area of approximately 16 500 km². From a regular shoreline of sandy beaches the park mounts to an elevation of maximum 500 meters with dunes stretching inland for up to 40 km. The cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean dominates the climate of the park and forms a coastal fog zone. Moisture from the fog contributes to a high proportion to the water cycle.  Several ephemeral rivers flow from the mountains of Damaraland and Kaokoland to the east on the coast, where the river mouths are commonly blocked by dunes. This results in the formation of freshwater pools, some of which are perennial. The park supports over 30 species of mammals, and important populations of birds.

Gemsbok (Oryx Gazella) at Skeleton Coast National Park.
Source: © Ostby 2007
( click to enlarge )

Kunene River Mouth Coastal Wetland, Namibia and Angola

A small freshwater lagoon with islands lies at the mouth of the Kunene River on the border between Angola and Namibia. Skeleton Coast NP is to the South, Iona NP to the north of the river mouth. This is a small wetland of approximately 500 ha with lush vegetation unlike its desert-like surrounding. Elephants visit the lagoon, crocodiles breed on the islands, and green turtle have been observed in the estuary.  Anderson et al 2001 recorded at least 56 bird species. The river mouth is an important staging and feeding area for waders, probably as a result of its isolated location along the Atlantic coast  - the nearest permanent wetland is Walvis Bay, some 700 km away. The wetland is recognized as an Important Bird Area because of significant populations of Damara Tern, Great White Pelican, Chestnut-banded Plover and a few other species (Anderson et al 2001).

The Kunene River mouth is also frequented by a number of reptiles and fish which depend on permanent aquatic habitats. Reptiles include Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus Niloticus), Nile Monitor (Varanus Niloticus), Nile Soft-shelled Terrapin (Trionyx Triunguis), African Rock Python (Python Sebae) and the Green Turtle (Chelonia Midas).

lona National Park, Angola

Iona National Park lies in Namibe province of Angola bordering the Skeleton National Park in Namibia. It is the oldest and the largest park in Angola, covering about 15 000 km². The Kunene River forms its natural boundary to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean with its cold Benguela current is to the west. It is an arid area, similar to Skeleton Coast NP, with rainfall varying between 100 mm at the coast  to up to 400 mm towards the Tchamalinde Mountains on its north eastern boundary. 

There are a variety of desert and semi-desert ecosystems in Iona National Park, including mobile dunes along the coast, calcrete plains, desert grasslands of perennial Aristida and Stipagrostis, arid montane shrubland and open woodland and arid savanna. As a result of the rainfall gradient, the perennial grasslands in the park lead into Acacia-Commiphora semi-arid savanna and, further east, to mopane (Colophospermum mopane) woodland (BirdLife International website 2009).

Mupa National Park, Angola

Mupa National Park covers an area of about 6 600 km² and is situated in the Kunene province. It lies between two perennial rivers, the Kunene River on the west and the Colui River constituting its northern and north-western border. Mupa NP stretches along the middle sections of the Kunene where the river forms floodplain habitats with annual rainfall of approximately 620 mm. The avifauna especially of water birds is suspected to be particularly rich, however not yet well studied. People live inside Mupa NP and use the area agriculturally mainly for pastoralism.

Bicuar National Park, Angola

Bicuar NP is situated in the Huila province of Angola. It covers about 7 900 km² at an elevation between 1 100 and 1 400 meters. The Kunene River forms its eastern border.

Pelicans at the Kunene River Mouth.
Source: Khayat 2008
( click to enlarge )




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