The springs surrounding the huge salt pan in Etosha, Namibia’s premier National Park, support a vast array of wildlife, including four of the ”Big Five“, as well as rare species such as the black-faced impala.
One of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth – herds of elephant, black-maned lions and the world’s largest population of rare black rhinos – roam the plains of Etosha National Park, a vast area that is home to 114 large and small animal species and 340 bird species. No trip to Namibia is complete without a visit to Etosha National Park. Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast shallow depression of approximately 5000 km2 which forms the heart of the park. Once part of a large inland lake fed by rivers from the north and east, it dried up 120 million years ago as continental drift changed the slope of the land and the course of the tributaries. This white, chalky expanse colours the park and with the waterholes creates the characteristic atmosphere of the Etosha of today.
A series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan guarantee rewarding and often spectacular game viewing. In good rain years the pan fills with water draining southwards from Angola via a delta-like system of shallow rivers, drying out in the winter (June to August) to become an austere expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and upward-spiralling dust devils. Seeing vast herds of game against this eerie backdrop, referred to in the local vernacular as the ‘the place of dry water’, makes the Etosha game-viewing experience unique.
Of the 114 mammals species found in the park, several are rare and endangered, such as black rhino and cheetah, and the lesser-known black-faced impala, which is endemic to north-western Namibia and south-western Angola. Etosha’s current population of black rhino represents one of the largest growing populations of black rhino in the world.
Other large mammals in the park include elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, hyena and lion. Cheetah and leopard complete the trio of ‘big cats’. Antelope species range from kudu, gemsbok and the large and stately eland, to the diminutive Damara dik-dik. Smaller mammals include jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and the ubiquitous ground squirrel.
About 340 bird species occur in Etosha, about one third being migratory, including the European bee-eater and several species of wader. Larger birds include ostrich, kori bustard and greater and lesser flamingo, tens of thousands of which congregate on the pan to breed during a good rainy season.
For the greater part of the year (the dry season) Etosha’s animals and birds are dependent on about 30 springs and waterholes. These provide excellent game viewing and photographic opportunities. Etosha’s vegetation varies from dwarf shrub savannah and grasslands, which occur around the pan, to thorn-bush and woodland savannah throughout the park.