The Etosha National Park is my first safari park experience outside a zoo or Whipsnade Safari Park, so i was not sure what kind of experience to expect. Hearing horror stories about crowds of vehicles corralling around any animal foolish enough to lay out in the open, i was worried that it would not be a natural experience i’d been dreaming of.
Having travelled along the west coast of Africa, and touring around Namibia i was growing concerned that all the areas were fenced off – how would these wild animals maintain their migration routes? We’d seen plenty of horses, donkeys and cows along the edge of the roads, along with some “game” animals in the fenced off fields to the side of the road, including zebras, gazelles, and impalas. To this point, we’d not seen any of the safari animals and i was keen to see giraffe’s, elephants and lions up close.
Etosha National Park is a 4731km3 game park created in 1907 and run by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), which also runs the other key national parks in Namibia. There are 3 lodges which provide accommodation, camping, restaurants, souvenirs and have a watering hole attached. You need to be inside these lodges before dusk and cannot leave before dawn, though the attached watering hole viewing area is accessible at any time.
The park contains a number of different habitats which suit the different animals at different times including the large XXX hectare salt pan, open grass land for grazing, areas of densely packed shrubs and bushes for protection and trees for shelter.
You can self-drive using a ‘normal’ car or van as the roads in the park are tarmac or good flat gravel, so it is accessible to all 4 wheel vehicles. There is a main artery road running through the park with lots of ‘diversions’ which take you to less travelled and more interesting areas. These diversions took us to the places we had the most interactions with animals during our visit to the park.
Seeing the animals
We soon learnt that seeing the different animals are down to location, timing, observation and most importantly: not spooking them!
Location: On the first day, we same in the north east entrance to where a majority of the elephants were and saw quite a lot. On the second and third day we saw only a few elephants. Equally, we were told by travellers coming the opposite direction that there were lions at specific locations, or at the site of a giraffe kill over 10, where in the end we saw only one lion.
Timing: This is a combination of knowing the general habits of the animals to give you the best opportunity to see them at key times and also being in the right place at the right time. For example, we were recommended to go to the watering holes attached to the lodges in the evening as animals were often seen getting a drink and wash before dark. Likewise, you are less likely to see the carnivores hunting in the heat of the day and more likely to see them lounging around in the shade.
Observation: You have to be looking in the right direction and know what to look for, to enable you to see these animals. Most of the smaller herbivores are prey, so they are often camouflaged for their survival. A number of times we would see something in the scrub and make a guess to what it was, but not get a clear view. After a while, you develop an ‘eye’ which enables you to pick out the animals easier.
Not spooking the animals: This is the hardest part, as you are driving along, often at under 30kmh, trying to see any movement of the animal or bushes that gives the animals presence away. As these animals live in a game park and see vehicles regularly, maintaining a constant speed does not startle them, but changes in engine noise, tyres skidding on gravel due to sharp breaking and sudden manoeuvres can cause the rare animal you’ve just spotted to run into the bush before you have time to pick up your camera and take aim.
I’m not an avid twitcher, though enjoyed bringing birds into my garden in Oxford so was surprised at how excited i got when we saw the wide variety of birds in the park. We saw a Kori Bustard, the largest flying bird, a secretary bird who stamps on snakes and a number of lilacbrested rollers.
Staying in the lodges
We camped in 2 of the 3 loges in the Etosha park. Their setup is fairly similar with a reception, restaurant, gift shop, petrol station, accommodation, camp site and waterhole viewing area. At the campsites, each pitch had a table, brai, power point and light, as well as flat ground under a shady tree to pitch your tent or park your truck. At the Halali Lodge, we were interrupted a number of times through the night by a number of honey badgers who had learnt that there was discarded food to be enjoyed in the bins.