Nov 162008

Game time
Leaving Swakopmund and civilisation behind, we head off for two days to a rather unusual game park– Etosha.

Think of the Black Rock Desert, not nearly as hard, far more salty, and surrounded by arid savannah with a few water holes. Here there are a wide variety of antelopes, from teeny tiny Steenboks up to the Oryx and Eland Antelopes, Lions, Hyenas, Leopards, Wildebeest (AKA Gnu or Nature’s Nachos), Black and White Rhinos, Giraffe, Elephants, a variety of great African Eagles, Owls, and more.

And we saw loads. Much of the game in Etosha has adapted to the local environment and don’t migrate as game in other areas do. The game is focused around the watering holes, which means that lots of it can be seen, along with fascinating interactions. Additionally, there are floodlit water holes at all of the major campsites, which means that, although there is a lot of game driving, much of the big game comes to you.

Nature documentary fans will know what the water hole means– action! although I didn’t see anything get eaten, I did get to see a bit of interaction!

Unfortunately, the USB ports on my machine have become pooped, and I can’t get the photos off for Etosha, so you’ll have to make do with descriptions.

Our guide tells us we were lucky– we saw lions on each game drive and on the second night at the campsite. Mostly males, but we did see nine lions, including six lionesses on the final morning game drive out. The first time we had a Near Dark-style run for the gate at sunset– they lock the gates to the campgrounds at sunset, and woe betide the traveler who doesn’t make it– apparently, you sleep in your car at the gate.

Black Rhinos
One of the only things that doesn’t fear the lion– quite the opposite in fact. We saw rhinos several times, but they were most interesting at the watering holes– they came by late at night. The last time we saw them, there was a family of three (bull, cow, pup) joined by another cow. The second cow left, and then a lion came up to drink.

The Rhino has little to fear from any predator save man. They are huge, thick-skinned, fast, and strong. The old, the infirm, and the young, however, do. And they are protected fiercely by their parents.

When the lion came to drink, at first, he was ignoring the rhinos, who formed a defensive ring with the bull between the pup and the lion, snorting at it. The lion drank for a while and then finally stopped, staring at the rhinos. After some time and more snorting, the bull rhino did a mock charge– ran about 10m towards the lion, who turned and walked away. Amazing.

Elephants are one of southern Africa’s success stories. A huge group of these giant beasts hogged the watering hole one evening, playing, drinking, and spraying themselves in the 40 degree heat while the other animals waited, very patiently, to drink. Elephants get to do whatever they want to do.

Unusually, we got to see a couple of hyenas, both the brown and the spotted variety. These guys typically hide away from everyone, but in Etosha, the lack of human hunters has them somewhat less fearful. Elsewhere, they’re considered pests and killed on sight, as they will hunt and eat anything, pretty indiscriminately, and are quite fierce.

The Pan
The Etosha Pan itself is the remnant of a prehistoric lake bed. It’s a salt pan that coveres nearly 5000 square kilometers (110×60 at its widest point). The name of the park comes from the pan itself, which means “Great White Place”.

Onwards and upwards– to the Okavango Delta, hippos, water buffalos, more elephants, and who knows what all…

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