Sunday, September 14, 2014

Etosha by the Numbers: Lions, Lions, Lions!

Three days:  We spent three days and nights exploring Etosha National Park, Namibia’s answer to South Africa’s Kruger National Park.  Although we didn’t spend as long in Etosha as we did in Kruger, we thoroughly enjoyed the time we had.

One pan, measuring four thousand five hundred and ninety square kilometers:  The distinguishing feature of Etosha is the vast salt pan in the center of the park.  Once a large lake, the region dried up when a major river altered its course millions of years ago.  All that is left now is the pan, which is refilled with water during the rainy season and covered in salt during the dry season.  Stepping out onto the pan is like stepping onto the surface of another planet.  Even more disconcerting is the view from kilometers away of herds of animals crossing the pan and kicking up clouds of dust.

Twenty one waterholes visited:  Unlike many other parks, the game in Etosha is concentrated around waterholes, particularly during the dry season.  Although we saw some animals out and about grazing, the vast majority of our sightings were confined to stops at these waterholes.  We aren’t quite sure how many waterholes there are in Etosha because the map we purchased turned out to be incredibly unreliable, but there are many more than those we visited.  Some waterholes are dry most of the year, but come rainy season will be refilled. 

Four out of the Big Five spotted, including one leopard:  Etosha is home to four out of the five and we checked off all four.  The climate doesn’t support herds of buffalo, but we have already seen plenty of those.

Three elephant pool parties

Thirteen lions:  Our luck spotting big cats is improving!  On each of our game drives through Etosha, we spotted lions.  Our first afternoon, there were three lions sleeping at a waterhole surrounded by hundreds of possibilities for a snack.  However, lions apparently can sleep up to twenty three hours each day (much like Ephraim) and it was not time for hunting when we arrived. 

On an evening drive, one lone lion was spotted for a sundowner at the waterhole.

Thursday morning, we spent at least two hours within less than three meters of a young male.  Stephanie was the first to spot him hanging out by the side of the road, but once the other cars began to note our sighting, there was quite the traffic jam.

Shortly before leaving the park, we had our first sighting of an entire pride of lions – eight beautiful cats all resting under a shady tree!

Average temperature of thirty five degrees Celsius (that’s approximately ninety five degrees Fahrenheit)

Two beautiful sunsets at the waterhole and one waterhole picnic dinner:  We stayed in one of the three main national park rest camps at Etosha.  Namibian rest camps generally can’t compare to their South African counterparts.  However, our rest camp, Okakuejo, did boast an incredibly popular waterhole with virtually guaranteed animal sightings at any time of day or night. On our first evening in Etosha, we stopped for a sundowner at the west-facing waterhole.

Watching rhinos and giraffes approach for an evening drink, we decided it would be better to spend longer at the site to see its visitors over several hours.  On our second evening, we packed a cooler of drinks and snacks and spent three+ hours watching elephants, rhinos, oryx, giraffes, and jackals come and go. 

Four black rhinos: Three at the waterhole for a late night drink and one browsing in the trees by day.

Dozens of giraffes awkwardly drinking water

Thousands of springbok, black-faced impala, wildebeest, oryx, and zebra trekking to waterholes

Two hyenas:  One that Giorgio was briefly convinced was a cheetah and one that cleared out an entire watering hole with his/her presence.

One elephant traffic jam

Dozens of jackals:  Apparently, jackals are not as hard to find as we previously thought.  We found them drinking at watering holes, trotting across the desert, and lurking around camp.  This is not particularly good news, as we saw a sign warning that they carry rabies.

One flat tire:  We had been counting ourselves lucky to have escaped a flat tire on the bumpy gravel roads of Namibia, but it wasn’t meant to be.  On Friday morning, we got a late start and discovered one of the tires was flat.  Although Giorgio would like to assure all of our readers that he is perfectly capable of changing a tire, one of the maintenance workers quickly came over to assist with the relatively painless process of putting on the spare and heading to the filling station to patch the tire.  We are now back on the road (thankfully tarred), hoping that the patch stays put until we return the car in Botswana in two days.  All things considered, we had the easiest Namibian flat tire situation possible.


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