A seemingly endless pan of silvery-white sand, translated as the ‘Place of Mirages’, ‘Land of Dry Water’ or the ‘Great White Place’, Etosha is a land upon which dust-devils play and illusions blur the horizon. One of Africa’s most unique and remarkable game reserves, Etosha National Park protects a vast shallow bowl of sand the size of Holland and its surrounding bush. It is at its best for an African safari during the cooler dry season when huge herds of animals can be seen against a backdrop of some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa. A large concentration of waterholes that occur around the southern edges of the pan are one of many things that make Etosha National Park so special. As the dry season progresses, these watering holes increasingly draw game. The mammals and birds found here are typical of the savanna plains of the main safari areas in southern Africa, but include several species endemic to this western side of the continent, adjacent to the Namib Desert.
The more common herbivores include elephant, giraffe, eland, Damara dik dik, blue wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, impala, steenbok, hartebeest, roan antelope and zebra. The most numerous of these are the springbok which can often be seen in herds numbering thousands, spread out over the most barren of plains. Elephant are also very common, though digging for water below the sand wears down their tusks, so big tuskers are very rare. Often large family groups are seen trooping down to waterholes to drink, wallow and bathe.
Among the rarer species, black rhino continue to thrive here, and the floodlit waterholes at Okaukuejo and Halali provide two of the continent’s best chances to observe this aggressive and secretive species. In recent years, about a dozen white rhino have been re-introduced. Black-faced impala are endemic to Namibia and southern Angola, occurring here as well as in parts of the Kunene region to the west. With only isolated populations, numbering under a thousand or so, they are one of the rarest animals in the region. All of the larger cats are found in Etosha, with a good number of lion, leopard, cheetah and caracal. The lion tend to prey mainly upon zebra and wildebeest, whilst the cheetah rely largely upon springbok. The seldom-seen leopard, take a varied diet, including antelope and small mammals, whilst the equally elusive caracal go for similar but smaller prey. Both spotted and brown hyena, as well as silver jackal and blacked backed jackal can also be found in Etosha.
An impressive 340 species of birds have been recorded in Etosha, including many uncommon members of the hawk and vulture families. Amongst the birds of prey, bateleur, martial, tawny and Wahlberg’s eagles are fairly common, as are black-breasted and brown snake eagles.
The number of large birds stalking around the plains often come across as an odd aesthetic. It is quite common during the day to see groups of ostriches or pairs of secretary birds walking about. Equally, it is easy to drive within meters of many kori bustards and black korhaans, which will just sit by the roadside and watch the vehicles pass as though the safari game drive is equally a safari for their viewing pleasure.
A Namibia safari to Etosha National Park is a challenging game viewing adventure filled with spectacular scenery and a propensity to inspire the adventurer in us all.
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