Have you ever thought of taking your own private safari in Africa? It is easy if you visit Etosha African Wildlife Park in Namibia. Driving around Etosha is a dream in a wildlife wonderland. You never know what you will find around the next corner or at the next water hole. It’s like you are driving around in the “Lion King”.
The animals are genuinely wild but they are familiar with vehicles driving around so you can get within meters of many. If however, you decided to break the rules by stepping out of your vehicle, they would immediately bolt into the distance. Humans in vehicles are accepted; on two legs, not so much. It is also a stupid thing to do with lions about…
In Etosha African Wildlife Abounds
Four of the “Big Five” African animals live free in Etosha Wildlife Park – elephants, lions, rhinoceroses, and leopard. The last Cape Buffalo disappeared from Etosha the middle of last century.
Hanging out at the numerous waterholes is one of the best places to see many of the animals. Sometimes it seems like you are watching the animals load an Ark as they come down to drink. Except they don’t come two by two, they came in tens and more.
African elephants are huge, especially when you can see them only meters away. And the males smell, very strongly! Nothing quite prepares you for the distinctive odour of urine and testosterone. These Namibian elephants are some of the tallest in Africa but due to a mineral deficiency, they have small tusks. Considering problems with poaching in Africa, this is probably a blessing.
It is difficult to gauge how huge elephants really are until you see zebras trotting along beside them. Average adult Burchall’s Zebra is about 1.3 m but they look like they could duck under the elephant’s belly.
One animal that does have unfortunate problems with poachers are rhinoceroses. There are two rhinoceros species in Etosha Wildlife Park, namely the rare southern White Rhino and the extremely endangered South Western Black Rhino. You will be one of the luckiest few people in the world if you get to see both.
Lions always capture everyone’s attention, human or animal. Pride is common enough so you might find one making a kill or feasting on their gains. Their potential prey doesn’t run away, though. They just keep a wary eye on the lions’ behavior to see if they are in hunting mode and keep some distance.
Etosha is not only about ‘The Big Five’
As you drive around a corner and you might see a herd of giraffes grazing the tops of thorny acacia trees, their tongues curling like delicate tree clippers. Giraffes amble rather than walk, with their back legs swinging to catch up with their front. If you see them gallop they seem so ungainly you wonder how they stay upright.
Burchell’s Zebras are everywhere, by the thousands. I never tired of them with their chunky bodies and gorgeous stripes. Young stallions rear and play fight while mares watch over their oh-so-cute foals. There must be thousands of photographs taken every year of zebra drinking at the waterholes. Their stripes reflected in the water are too picturesque to resist.
Also to be found in Etosha African Wildlife Park are the rarer shy Hartmann’s Mountain zebra. I was lucky enough to see these while horse riding in Namibia but I suspect they are extremely difficult to spot in Etosha.
There are many species of gazelle and antelope. Gemsbock are my favorite with their tawny gold coats and serious black striped faces. Their long sharp horns curve gracefully like up like deathly sabres. Majestic kudu have long spiraling horns while hartebeest have hardly anything impressive on their heads but they do have beautiful copper colored coats.
Waterbuck are rather unusual in that they have a white circle on their rump that looks like a target with a flicking tail in the middle. In fact, it seems like all the animals constantly flick their tails.
Send in the Clowns
Some animals are definitely find more entertaining than others. If you stop to watch a troop of baboons fooling around you may just find yourself in the same spot an hour later. The babies are especially hilarious with their teasing antics, jumping and leaping on adult heads, doing forward rolls and generally clowning around. They love turning over stones looking for scorpions to eat.
Meerkats are awesome too. They bound along with their tails bobbing jauntily or stop to congress on their hind quarters each looking out in different directions.
And warthogs are too cute too! (What did I say about The Lion King?) The mothers and babies just left me melting as they trotted along single file through the grass with their little tails straight up like little piggy pennants. Mothers snuffle along the ground keeping an eye on skitterish piglets leaping and wiggling about.
There are many more animals in the Etosha African Wildlife Park than I can mention. There are over more than 110 mammals, 340 bird species, plus more than a hundred reptiles and amphibians in Etosha and a few fish that come and go with the summer floods.
Plan to Stay at least a Few Nights
You register your vehicle as you enter Etosha African Wildlife Park through any number of gates during daylight hours. You pay an entrance per person and per vehicle per night in the park. The park closes each night at dusk so you must drive into one of the six camps, or stay in one of the commercial lodges before dark.
However, the magic of Etosha does not stop when the camp gates are locked. There are specially floodlit watering holes outside each camp so you can take a seat and quietly see the sun go down over the savanna. Then stay to watch the animals come for their evening drinks. We were so lucky to see rhinos come down to drink along with many others of the Etosha menagerie.
May as well pour yourself a gin and tonic while you wait. The quinine in it will help keep malaria at bay. Actually, there are reportedly no malarial mosquitos in Etosha Wildlife Park but if you intend to venture up the Caprivi Strip to the Victoria Falls, it pays to be prepared.
Etosha African Wildlife Park is half the size of Switzerland. Its central salt pan , pictured as the large white area to the north, covers less than a quarter of Etosha’s 22,270 square kilometers and astronauts can see the salt pan from outer space.
Time to Observe Etosha African Wildlife for Yourself!
What I’m trying to say is that Etosha really is a huge magical place full of wonderful African animals. It is one of my favorite places on our beautiful planet. Do plan to stay a few nights as you really won’t want to leave.