No tree is quite like the mopane of Angola and Namibia. This slim, gray-trunked tree has a rough bark and a sparse crown of rigid, irregular branches. Yet its leaves are beautiful and elegant, shaped like butterflies. A variety of animals live in the mopane forests, including elephants, black rhinos, zebra, cheetahs, leopards, lions, and many types of antelopes.
This ecoregion encompasses the Cunene River, which divides Angola and Namibia and provides a ribbon of moist riparian habitat in the otherwise dry forest. Where mopane trees, which grow 23 to 32 feet (7 to 10 m) tall, are widespread, grass is sparse or completely absent. Scattered acacia trees dot the landscape along with small sour-plum trees, whose orange fruits serve as larval food for several species of butterfly. Sand corkwood trees, with their peeling bark and small, delicate leaves, are found throughout the ecoregion as well.
Mopane trees have a difficult time in this land of numerous large herbivorous mammals. Following in the wake of a browsing elephant family, you will see mopane trees pushed over, snapped off, and stripped of their bark and leaves. Other mammals found here include endangered black rhinos, giraffes, Burchellâs zebra, Hartmannâs mountain zebra, and black-backed jackals. Antelopes include the Damara (or Kirkâs) dikdik, a slender creature that prefers dense thickets and is most active at night. Other antelopes include the black-faced impala, eland, greater kudu, springbok, red hartebeest, and southern oryx or gemsbok. A wide variety of birds can be found in this ecoregion as well, including the shy grey kestrel, rufous tailed palm thrush, and cinderella waxbill. Pythons, tortoises, lizards, and scorpions round out this African assortment of species.
Cause for Concern
The main threats facing this region are overgrazing, depletion of trees for construction materials and firewood, and clearing of land for cultivation. Elephants are particularly attractive to poachers because of their ivory, and black rhinos are targeted for their horns. Angola has also been embroiled in civil war for the past 25 years, with disastrous effects on vegetation and wildlife. But Etosha National Park in Namibia is one of the last strongholds for the cheetah and has significant populations of black-faced impalas and black rhinos.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001