Saturday, 7 January 2017

Namibia – Tis the season for the rhinos

December 24-26

Fa-la-la-la-la, oh and lions.

Black rhino

Leo (NB: may not be his real name)

And these…




As well as these…


A herd of springbok


Not forgetting these…




All of these – and many, many more – can be found in Namibia’s pride and joy: Etosha National Park. 117 different mammals, in fact. Situated in the north of the country, Etosha covers a little over 22,000 sq km of wildly changing landscape. It used to cover 105,000 sq km but boundary changes throughout the twentieth century gradually limited its area.

A family of giraffes in Etosha National Park

This is roughly the current size of the park on a
map of Namibia

The main non-moving feature of Etosha is its pan. The land surface, a dull and uninviting grey without sunlight, used to house a large lake, which was possibly the largest inland lake in the world at the time. About 12 million years ago, a tectonic shift rerouted the inflowing rivers towards the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in Etosha’s lake evaporating into the air. The salt remained, giving much of the national park a lunar-like look. Apparently it can be seen from space!

A journey of giraffes (yes, that is the collective noun for
giraffes) crossing the pan at Etosha

The changing weather makes for some spectacular vistas, too…

A lion enjoying the sunset near Namutoni in eastern Etosha

A dark sky, often pierced with bright forks of lightning,
near Okaukuejo in western Etosha

The fact that the land is so bare makes the abundance of wildlife even more startling. Their survival is due to Etosha having several waterholes dotted around its vast space. The animals, needing to drink to survive, are often found at these sites.

Giraffes contorting their bodies to drink from water holes
is an amazing sight

A dazzle of zebras (Google it if you don't believe me) drinking
simultaneously from the water hole at Okaukuejo's campsite

The campsites in the national park are situated next to some of the major watering holes, allowing visitors to sit back, relax and watch the different creatures wander in to drink. We actually didn’t see many animals at these sites, though it was pretty special when we did…

The water hole at Okaukuejo at night, where we saw a
mother and baby rhino drink

This lack of action can possibly be explained by our group using up all of our luck on our drives around the park. Mere minutes after leaving our first campsite, we came across an animal I’ve never seen in the wild before: the black rhino.

A rhino being 'black' or 'white' is nothing to do with skin colour -
the main difference is their lips, showing their respective
eating habits.

You may notice that the feature most synonymous with the rhino, its horn, is missing. This, we were told, is for its own protection. Poachers desire the horn for a variety of purposes (our guide said alternative medicine is the main reason) but kill the rhino in order to obtain it. When young, the rhino is thus tranquillised and has its horn removed by park conservationists. If the horn isn’t present, the poachers won’t kill it. One hopes…

Black rhinos can weigh up to 1,400 kilograms - I'm about 60...

Black rhinos have a pointed lip to pick fruit and leaves from branches

Another animal I saw in the wild for the first time was the ostrich, with its bizarre neck often shaped like an S as it strutted around the plains. We got close to them but were even closer to a scorpion which we found scuttling around at breakfast one morning.

Ostriches here can move at 50 km/h -
elsewhere they are even faster!

There are apparently 59 species of scorpion in Namibia - I
have no idea which one this is
Rhinos are big beasts but Etosha is home to even larger animals. We saw seven elephants, including one calf. All of the elephants we saw were eating, which is unsurprising given that an adult has to consume 240 KILOGRAMS of food every day. This is because it only digests up to 60% of that amount.

The ears of an African elephant are larger than those of
its Indian counterpart

I was taking pictures and videos on my phone - the quality
pictures on this blog are from Sami and Thomas from my tour group!

Our most interesting elephant encounter was with the second one we saw. It seemed…annoyed. Our guide described what we see in the video below as ‘redirected aggression’ – it was angry at us so took out its ire on the poor tree…

Dumbo - angry!

I never get tired of seeing these animals as there’s always something different happening. From the giraffe starting to do the splits in order to drink to the mother cheetah swivelling her neck whilst her cubs lay lazily in the shadows, there were an incredible number of incredible moments.

Giraffe doing the splits: priceless

A cornucopia of cheetahs (OK you got me - it's a
COALITION OF CHEETAHS!!) watching potential prey

And I haven’t even got to the most heart-stopping encounter yet. On our first game drive, we decided to try one more water hole before sunset. We rocked up to the water hole with nothing visible on its edges. Our guide then spoke. Just one word.

“Lion.” Through the window we peeked. A male lion, lying in the middle of the road, less than ten metres in front of us.

Male lions are notoriously lazy - still, you wouldn't mess with him...

Then he got up. You aren’t allowed to leave your vehicle in Etosha so I’d spent much of my afternoon hanging out of the window getting pictures. As the lion began to stalk around our bus, I opted to keep my arms and legs firmly inside the vehicle. Most of the time…

I often resorted to hanging out of the bus, holding onto the
roof with only legs inside. Not with the lions about...

It got better. We soon spotted that there was an animal at the watering hole after all. Another lion. He decided to come and join us.

A lion's roar can be heard up to 8 km away

It then got really interesting. Both lions seemed to be marking their territory, scuffing their feet in the dusty ground and staring intently at each other. Unfortunately we had to leave at this point as the campsite gates closed at sunset. If we’d stayed a little bit longer, we would have seen the next instalment – we also would have spent our whole night with them, which was less desirable.

We saw another lion the following afternoon. It was protecting a kill, what seemed to be a gnu or blue wildebeest. The lioness then started to wander off, only to return when a jackal circled around to try and scavenge some extra lunch.

The Day of the Jackal? Not quite...

It is captivating simply watching all of these special animals simply going about their daily routines. With a backdrop so diverse it seems other-worldly, Etosha National Park is a stunning place to see your Christmas wishes come true.

Love you all


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