Sunday, 29 April 2007

Etosha - it's all about the animals

We were really excited about going to Etosha - it was one of the places we had actually got round to researching before we came away, courtesy of some great picture books from the Wellington Public Library. We had very high expectations, and booked in for five days/four nights.
Arriving at our first campground, Namutoni - at the eastern end of the park- after traveling all night we decided a shower break was in order and it wasn't till after 3pm that we set off in search of animals. Etosha has a large number of waterholes, and the idea is that you go to these, park up and wait. So we did. And were rewarded with big herds of zebra, springbok, wildebeest and quite a few giraffe all coming down to drink. It's really a beautiful sight to see these animals in such numbers.
As has become our habit on this trip, we were up the next morning at the crack of dawn with hot coffee in our Bush Buddies (really cool camping cups we bought in Swakopmund) and our muesli stashed in the back seat to be consumed later. Our big sighting this day was two lions - a male and a female - both hiding in the long grass, not far from a group of springbok. Then a couple of warthog wandered into their path and for a while things got really interesting. The lions were down on their haunches, and the warthogs just kept on coming. Then they realised the error of their ways. When a warthog wants to, it can move quickly, and these two scarpered. When they get scared, their tails stick up and the little tufts on the end remind me of the flags that tour guides wave outside European cathedrals. They are a real advertisement of where they are, so we (and our lion friends) could watch their progress. However, the lions soon lost interest - I think essentially they are pretty lazy - and focussed again on the springbok. It was great to watch all this happening in front of us and while we never actually saw anything kill or eat anything else, I am now less queasy about it. There really are thousands of springbok, and I'm sure the loss of a few of them to keep the lions going is no big deal.
The next couple of nights we spent at a campground in the middle of the park, called Halali. The Namibian Wildlife Resort people, who run the park, are renovating the sites, and Halali is looking very spiffy indeed. The loos are fantastic, really huge, with lovely new tiles (as opposed to the usual old concrete), and fittings. Luckily there is also a large roofed dining area for campers here as we got some rain as we were about to cook dinner. So far the weather has been perfect for camping, warm without wind, quite a novelty for Wellingtonians. The rain didn't last too long however, and we got to have our post-dinner drink without getting wet.
We had heard that most of the animals were moving to the east and north of the park, and the next day seemed to bear this out. We didn't see anything like the numbers of animals we'd seen over on the eastern side, but did see our first herd of elephants. There were around 8-10 of them, no babies unfortunately, but all busy wandering around chomping trees and doing elephant stuff. It's amazing how much time you can spend watching something like this - goes much faster than a TV doco!

A lioness going about her business, crossing the road en route to some shade.
We got the chance to play good samaritans this afternoon, firstly helping out after a 4wd had rolled. The roads, while all gravel, are really pretty good, but the professional outfits really drive too fast, and this one had just lost it in the gravel and rolled, ending up back on its wheels. There were five passengers on board, with a variety of injuries, thankfully nothing more than nasty cuts and I think a broken collarbone or arm. Help was on its way, so we spent half an hour or so searching for people's possessions that had scattered, specially spectacles. Max found a pair, which turned out to be from a previous accident on the same gentle bend. Maybe there's a lesson there?
Our second helping hand was for a couple of women travelling in a campervan - which had a flat tyre. Max is good at this stuff, and sorted it out in about 20 minutes, once all the right bits for the jack were found. And, we ended up having a couple of nightcaps with them later in the evening - the campervans all have fridges, so the wine/beer was cold, a bit of a luxury coming from the car version, where our red wine is almost at boiling temperature some evenings.
More lions the next day, and more herds of animals as we made our way back to Namutoni for one final night. Our last morning in the park was fantastic - we had a close (possibly too close) encounter with three male lions. They weren't in a hunting mood, they were just strolling over to the trees to find some shade for the day - but hung out at a waterhole just to rattle the zebra and wildebeest.
The game animals I'm sure can tell when the lions are serious, as they were watchful and wary, but didn't run away or look too anxious at all. And, I guess, when it comes down to it, it's a numbers game. If there are 100 zebra and three lion, only one animal is going to go, if at all. Chances are it won't be you, so don't panic. And they weren't. We have got some great pics of the lions with relatively unconcerned zebra all around them. It's not quite how I'd imagined the kings of the jungle would be treated by animals that were potentially their dinner.
It was a great few days, and I now have a new found respect for the patience of the wildlife photographer/observer.

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