What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man.
(1854 Seattle, chief of the Suquamish tribe)
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, these words by Chief Seattle are more relevant today than ever before. Fortunately for Namibians and visitors alike they have the Etosha National Park available to reconnect with beasts and restore their spirits.
Etosha, meaning ‘great white place’ in Herero, is about a four and a half hour drive north from Windhoek. Recently upgraded, it offers both luxury accommodation and campsite facilities for those wanting a more rustic experience. Unfortunately prices have been driven up to such an extent that many people are forced to find accommodation outside the Park these days to make the visit more affordable.
The park covers an area of approximately 22 000 km and is named after the enormous pan that covers roughly 5000 kms. The pan is seldom covered in water, as it relies on rainfall and not rivers and the evaporation rate is very high. The three main camps are Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni.
My introduction to Etosha was a heart-wrenching event. Within a kilometer of the Anderson Gate a small zebra limped painfully across the road in front of us. It had been attacked by a predator and half its rump had been eaten away. It was a shocking sight and my first thought was that we should call a vet! The zebra had no sooner moved out of sight when it started raining.
We drove a little further along and came across a small bird of prey in the middle of the road. Nothing unusual in that, I hear you say. Rain, however, is a luxury in Etosha and the animals know that they must show due appreciation and gratitude when it comes! Well, this little bird gave us the performance of its life.
Obviously overjoyed to feel rain, the bird proceeded to do a rain dance. It spread both its wings out and then lifted one at an angle so that the water could run down both wings. Then it lifted the opposite wing and let the water run down that one as well. All the while it was turning in little circles and alternating wings. A true rain dance. We watched enthralled as this little ritual continued for about fifteen minutes. We could feel the joy that this bird was experiencing and even though we saw the most magnificent animals during our visit, this happy little dance stands out for me as the highlight of my visit to the park. We later learned from our Roberts bird book that it was a juvenile Pale Chanting Goshawk. The adult Goshawks also like to spread their wings out when it rains.
The landscape varies throughout the park. Some areas are stark with rocky, white ground. There are also vast grass plains where springbok, giraffe and zebra dot the landscape, and wooded areas where, if you’re lucky, you could spot a black rhinoceros. It makes for an interesting experience as one drives from one side of the park to the other.
Life is sustained by the numerous waterholes dotted from place to place and these obviously allow for excellent game spotting as the animals gather at all times of the day and night to quench their thirst. The watering holes at the rest camps are floodlit twenty-four hours a day and visitors can watch the animals from the safety of these fenced off areas.
On the western side of the park one can visit the Sprokieswoud (Haunted wood) with its bulbous, contorted Moringa trees.
No two visits to the park are the same and it pays to go at different times of the year so that Etosha can reveal its gifts in the different seasons.
The birdlife is fantastic and if you’re into photography there’ll be something new and interesting to capture around every corner.