The Waterberg (~ 1900 m a.s.l.) towers up to 200 m high from the plain of the Omaheke, as this part of the Kalahari is called.
Over a length of 48 km, vertical cliffs and rugged red sandstone rocks rise up to 30 m high and are covered with lush vegetation at their base – a striking contrast to the barren bushland of the surrounding area. Clouds often stick to this natural barrier and then they rain down.
The plateau of the Waterberg, which is between 8 and 16 km wide, consists of Etjo sandstone that is approximately 200 million years old. As sandstone is porous, rainwater seeps through the water-permeable sandstone layers into the depths, where it accumulates on the clayey base rock and emerges again as springs at several points on the south-eastern slope. While at the foot of the mountain a green zone of vegetation expands, the plateau is dry and sandy.
In 1999 the fossil remains of a massospondyle from the Lower Jurassic, one of the oldest known dinosaur species, were found on the plateau. A replica of this up to 6m long animal with a long neck and short front legs, where it is assumed that the adult animals moved mainly on their hind legs, can be seen in the Geological Survey Museum of Windhoek.
The current fauna of the Waterberg, which has been designated a nature reserve since 1972, includes wild animals such as buffalo, white and black rhino as well as giraffe, common eland, roan- and sable antelope. Baboons, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards and warthogs also occur. The snake world lists the African Rock Python, the Angolan Python, Black Mamba, Boomslang and the Puff adder. A special feature of the park’s 200 species of bird life is a small colony of Cape Vultures, a highly endangered species with an impressive wingspan of up to three metres.
According to Birdlife.org the Cape Vultures stopped breeding at Waterberg in 1995 after the population had dropped from 25 to five(!) specimens. Presumably the birds had eaten poisoned carcasses as a result of the farmers’ use of insecticides. A ‘Vulture Restaurant’, which offers the vultures an additional food supply, as well as a training programme for farmers with the aim of creating a vulture friendly awareness, should support the small population and possibly reverse the trend. In 2004, the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) released 14 Cape Vultures (from South Africa) in Waterberg Plateau National Park to join the last twelve Cape Vultures in Namibia at that time.
Two different types of vegetation meet at Waterberg. The plain at the foot of the mountain belongs to the thornbush savannah. On the plateau, one finds the most south-western foothills of the tree savannah and the dry forest, which is the only forested area in the country and therefore particularly interesting. The vegetation on the mountainside includes species from the dry shrubland.
It forms a barrier between the two types of vegetation. The area of the Waterbergpark was used for agriculture until 1972. During this time most of the springs were captured and foreign plants were introduced, which now have to be continuously removed, as the park is intended to be a restored natural landscape. Near the springs, wild fig trees form a dense canopy of leaves with lush ferns covering the ground below.
Many years ago a particularly interesting plant, Drosera burkeana, was found here. The German botanist and imperial forestry official Kurt Dinter discovered the insectivorous plant, a sundew species, in 1899 at one of the Waterberg’s source swamps. Since then, however, it has never been found again.
Among the tree species of the Waterberg are also magnificent specimens of the Karee (Rhus Lancea), leadwood trees, and the thorny Ziziphus mucronata, called Buffalo Thorn in English. The sandy plateau is home to wild syringa (Burkea africana), yellowwood trees with silvery shimmering foliage and Lonchocarpus nelsii. Between September and December the specimens of the Weeping wattle (Peltophorum africanum) bloom. Lavender and climbing figs also grow between the rocks, and their aerial roots literally cling to the rocks. On many of the rock surfaces you can also see islands of colourful lichens, which belong to the 140, partly endemic species found at Waterberg.