Tag Archives: Gemsbok

Etosha National Park in the rainy season

Rob and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this year by visiting the Etosha National Park in Namibia.  February isn’t the best time of the year to visit the park as it’s right in the middle of the rainy season and the grass is very long.  With all the water around the animals don’t come down to the waterholes to drink and you really have to go and hunt for them on game drives.  Fortunately not seeing animals didn’t phase us too much as the birdlife was outstanding and we made the most of photographing many summer migrants, like this gorgeous European bee-eater.

    European bee-eater

With an abundance of water comes the celebration of life.  Etosha was no exception and we saw many herds of antelope with babies – the strikingly beautiful Gemsbok are our favourites and are always exciting to spot.  Their young ones are easy to identify as they still have their brown baby coats.

    A group of Gemsbok

This mother and baby Black-faced impala hadn’t quite made up their minds about which way they were headed.

    Mother and baby - Black-faced impala

A Black-shoudered kite really stood out quite dramatically with the backdrop of dark rain clouds.  Rob will shortly be doing a blog about a fantastic sighting of a B.S. Kite eating a lizard.   His photos of this meal are magnificent.

Black-shouldered kite

It’s a good idea to check the ground occasionally or you could run over little creatures like this jaunty Namaqua chameleon that was also enjoying the water.

    Jaunty Namaqua chameleon

Not all the birds are pretty.  In stark contrast to the beautiful European bee-eater above, we also saw a not-so-pretty Maribou stork wading in some water next to the road.  Doesn’t he look like he’s wearing a waistcoast?

    Marabou stork - dressed to kill!

A visit to Etosha always offers up good sightings of the Northern black korhaan.  These little fellows are everywhere and are very vocal, especially when disturbed.

    Northern black-korhaan

Even though we didn’t see any of the more exciting animals like lions, elephants and leopards this trip, we so enjoyed spending time out in nature, just enjoying the birds and the thrill of seeing new life and lush vegetation.  What a magnificent way to spend a weekend!

 

Day trip through the Skeleton Coast Park

With most of Namibia awash with rains, and a camping trip long overdue, last week we decided to head off to the dry Skeleton Coast Park for a visit.  Our first night was spent at Buck’s Caravan Park at Henties Bay, which enabled us to set off very early the next morning for our day trip through the Park.
We had spent some time researching the area so that we would know what to look out for.  There are a number of trip reports on this section of the coast, some of which are not very flattering, labeling the area as “boring”.  Fortunately, we also read that one should stop often to examine the countryside, as the desert is alive with lichen and other plant and animal life.  This made our journey so much richer and we’re glad we were offered that advice.

The journey to the Skeleton Coast Park is interesting in itself, with the Cape Cross seal colony a major attraction along the way, as well as the lichen fields, the salt works and the spectacular scenery, but we will write about these in separate blogs.
Gates to Skeleton Coast Park

Entry to the Skeleton Coast Park requires a permit, which we purchased in Windhoek beforehand.  The gates at the entrance to the Park were impressive, if somewhat forbidding with their skulls and crossbones, and added to the excitement of entering an area that has evoked feelings of fear and dread in the hearts of many a sailor who has been stranded on the beaches with little hope of surviving the harsh desert.  It has also spelled the ruin of many prospectors who considered the area to be rich in minerals.
Amazing scenery
The first thing that strikes you about the Skeleton Coast, apart from its incredible beauty, is its isolation.  It was comforting to know that the Park officials knew we were there, because we only saw one other car for the duration of our five hour visit.  Imagine having a whole park virtually to yourself in this day and age!
Wreck of the Atlantic Pride
After passing over the Ugab River, with its windblown shrubs and Acacia trees, we made our way to our first stop, which was the wreck of the Atlantic Pride fishing vessel.  Not much remains of this hapless boat, but it sets the mood and shows that man is no match for the angry sea and the desert.
Amazing scenery
The landscape is timeless and gives one a feeling of being in a state of quiet meditation.  The scenery changes every couple of kilometers so one is constantly looking at different colours and textures, from gravel plains to sand dunes.  We stopped often to examine the lichen fields which add golden colours to the ground.  It was as if our Maker had used every little rock as a miniature artist’s palette and then discarded it to go on to create an even better landscape further along.
Lichen covered rocks
Next we came across a rusty old oil rig which once was the dream of hopeful prospectors.  Now it is prey to the salt air that has rusted it into delicate filigree patterns that add a beauty of their own in the desert.
Remnants of the oil rig
We were excited to come across both a black-backed jackal and a Gemsbok in the desert,  wondering what they lived on in this inhospitable environment.  At Torra Bay, which is deserted for all but one month of the year when the fishermen are allowed to camp there, the lonely buildings were guarded by cormorants and crows, which lent a mournful air to the place with their loud cawing.
A lonely gemsbok in the desert
We exited the Park through the Springbokwasser Gate on the east and this drive is also through magnificent scenery of barchan dunes and grey-capped gravel mountains dotted with grazing springbok.  We stopped to look at the Welwitchia mirabilis plants that are abundant alongside the road and the poisonous Euphorbia damarana, which are quite different from the usual Euphorbia plants that are found elsewhere in the country.

It was an incredible day’s drive and at no point were we bored or tired of the scenery.  In fact we’d love to be able to spend a bit longer exploring further up north as we’re sure the Park has a lot more to offer than we could cram into a single day.

The Gemsbok – courageous, elegant and proud

Namibian’s think so highly of the gemsbok, or Oryx gazella that their national coat of arms depicts two of these magnificent animals on either side of a shield covered with the national flag – representing courage, elegance and pride.  If you see these antelope in their desert surroundings, you will understand why they hold such a prominent place in the hearts of all Namibians.

Gemsbok in typical habitat

We come across them often in our travels in Namibia and Botswana and they never fail to give us a thrill when we see them.  Their coats vary in colour from light grey to light brown, with patches of white, highlighted by dramatic black lines on their backs, legs and faces. These striking markings are offset by long straight horns that are sported by both males and females – the female’s horns being slightly thinner and longer.

Pair of gemsbok

Gemsbok can survive in harsh semi-desert conditions and dry savannah areas as they have adapted to tolerate heat better than other antelopes.  Able to withstand temperatures in excess of 45 degrees C they use rapid breathing to cool the blood that passes through their noses.  This cooler blood is transported to their brains and their body temperature is brought down a few degrees.

Enjoying a dip with Springbok

They are able to survive for long periods without water. Like most antelopes, they are mainly grazers, but they also eat tsamma melons, bulbs and tubers, which add moisture and fibre to their diet.  During the day gemsbok mostly try and find a shady tree to stand under, as they prefer feeding early in the morning, evening and sometimes during the night, when temperatures are cooler.

Gemsbok at Etosha

Lions,  hyenas and dogs are their main predators, apart from humans, who hunt them for trophies or meat.  We came across a lion kill in the Central Kalahari last year, where a pride of lions had brought down a gemsbok.

Lion kill in the Kalahari

The lions guarded their kill very jealously because a large number of black-backed jackals  were keen to get any pickings that they could.

Lion kill in the Kalahari

Gemsbok give birth to a single calf, arriving at any time during the year, after a nine month gestation period.  The calf is usually hidden for the first few weeks of its life before it joins the rest of the herd.  The baby’s horns grow very quickly, giving rise to the myth that gemsbok are born with horns, which obviously isn’t true.  As can be seen from the photo below, the baby is brown with very few markings.

Mother & Baby - Sossusvlei

Wherever we see them – in the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, the savannah grasslands of Botswana or the arid rocky Etosha game reserve, they remain one of our absolute favourite animals and we always admire their grace and beauty.