Etosha Park

Etosha – meaning Great White Place – is a HUGE national park in Namibia and about 22% of the park is made up of the Etosha Pan which is a large flatland area that is dry most of the time but can get a little water in it when and if they get rains in the area. It's very salty/mineral-y when it does get water so the animals don't really like drinking it. There are several watering holes scattered throughout the park though and that's where the animals congregate to quench their thirst after wandering around eating all day. We are here in the wet season (summer) but it's still pretty arid and desolate. The eastern side of the park was somewhat greener but the central/western side still seems pretty uninviting for grazers. Despite that, we saw several huge herds of elephants, zebra, black faced impala, blue wildebeest, oryx (gemsbok) and springbok. It's also an added bonus that this is the time of year that most species are having their babies. The cuteness is sometimes too much to handle. We saw baby springbok, impala, wildebeest and zebra. We were really hoping to see somebody dropping their babies but that may have been too much to ask. We did see a zebra that was still wet from just being born though. And at our first lodge at Etosha there was a herd of impala that one day had one baby in the herd and the next day had over 15! Their little bodies on spindles for legs was just adorable… And they would spring and hop and frolic all over the place. This is called 'pronking' and was both funny and seriously cute!

Being in Etosha in low season (summer/wet) has some advantages like the above mentioned babies as well as not having a ton of people all crowded around trying to see the same animals at the watering holes. The downsides: Supposedly the animals are harder to find because there is more water available, it's hot. But really, if you're used to Texas summers like we are, this isn't bad at all. It's actually raining right now … A little thunderstorm is passing through and it feels pretty grand.

Tonight is the last night in Etosha area and we are headed into a region called Damaraland tomorrow. That will be our first spot of camping (rooftop tent on the 4×4 style) so that's both exciting and brings me a little bit of anxiety. Pretty sure it'll be amazing but the unknown always puts those good little butterflies in my stomach. While we are there we may go try to find the desert elephants… Pretty unique I'm told. Hope we find them. ūüôā

Here are a few snaps of some Etosha wildlife… Including an X-rated lion shot.

 

Cheetah Conservation – Otjiwarongo, Namibia

It's our 3rd day in Namibia and I'm so happy to have gotten to see cheetah! From the time I was a little kid, whenever anyone would ask my favorite animal I would answer either horse or cheetah depending on the day. Yeah, horses are pretty cool and all but there's something about the cheetah that has always captured my attention and adoration. Obviously the rarity of them but I think it's also their unusual personality. They're still cats and thereby quite full of themselves but they're definitely the underdog of the feline species (and I am a sucker for an underdog). But, really it's just their speed that gets them by… They're not strong, they're not fighters, they are timid and pretty much get pushed around by everyone else. But who can resist those gorgeous spots, their lithe, graceful bodies and just knowing that you're looking at the fastest land animal? With all our technology, we have a hard time making a machine that can beat a cheetah at 0-60. Here's to you my cheetah friends! You gorgeous things you!

Cheetah tidbits:

+ Only about 10,000 cheetah remain and roughly 4,500 of those are in Namibia making it the country with the highest cheetah population

+ Cheetahs are the lowest ranking feline predator – they often lose their hard earned meal to lion, leopard and hyena. In fact, if anyone challenges them, they don't fight – just immediately give up their dinner.

+ Cheetah moms can have litters of up to four or five cubs but typically only one, if any, survive to adulthood

+ Cheetahs are prone to various genetic disorders because they have a very shallow gene pool.

+ Cheetahs need their prey to be running because they hunt by tripping their target at full speed causing them to fall and allowing the cheetah to suffocate them. They don't have the strength of lion or leopard that can bring down an animal with brute strength.

Cheetah populations were in severe decline because of being killed by farmers. Since cheetah hunt in the day (unlike nearly all other predators) farmers saw a dead goat and saw a cheetah and assumed they were the problem and shot them on sight. Now, through education and cooperative farming techniques, cheetah and farmers are living together peacefully. One major factor in this is the use of Anatolian Shepherds. These dogs live with the flocks and guard them from predators, including cheetah. The Cheetah Conservation Fund that we visited breeds these dogs and has placed over 450 of them with farmers and cannot keep up with the demand for them. There's currently a 2 year waiting list!

 

 

Arrived in Namibia

After long two long travel legs and a whirlwind tour of London, we arrived this evening in Windhoek, Namibia! We will pick up the 4×4 tomorrow first thing and head out on our trek across Namibia.

Since we only just arrived at 5pm we haven't seen much but what we have seen I think will be a common thread through the trip. Vast open spaces. The view from the plane window was nothing but open grasslands with low scrub bushes and mopane trees. A few low mountain ranges can be seen in the distance but what really strikes you is the amount of untouched rugged terrain with a few dry sandy riverbeds weaving their way to who knows where.

I can't wait to get on the road tomorrow …

 

Wild dogs on our last night in Botswana!

All good things must come to an end. And so it did. But before I get to that, an update on the last day or so in the Okavango Delta at Sandibe. ¬†Instead of the boat ride on Sunday evening, we got word that wild dogs had moved back into the area and we had a good chance of finding them if we went back out on a game drive that afternoon. ¬†Unanimously we decided that was the way to go as wild dogs are so rare to see. ¬†I had secretly hoped to see them on this trip but had written it off because of their scarcity. ¬†What I made known that I wanted to see was cheetah …. That didn’t happen – this time.
Back to the dogs: we piled in the Land Cruiser and set off to find the pack. ¬†It was nearly an hour long and very bumpy ride past the airstrip but another vehicle was already there and was sending word that the dogs were stil there. ¬†It was a pack of 17 dogs – pretty substantial! We arrived and there they were – laying around a large pond, just waking up from the midday slumber. ¬†They are pretty scrawny with skinny little legs, very splotchy brown, black and white coloring and huge ears. I think they’re beautiful. ¬†But I may be biased since I think our dog Lucy loosley bears some resemblance. ¬†They had reasonably full bellies and we saw two impala carcasses nearby – presumably from the night befores kill. ¬†They slowly awoke, started playing with one another nipping each others ears and chasing away the vultures that follow them around to pick up the leftovers. They looked just like any group of domesticated dogs. ¬†Slowly they started wandering away, looking for the next place to go for food in the area. We followed as they started to break up and we thought maybe they were hunting – they’re known to be very skillful hunters using their numbers to scatter, surround, corral and surprise their prey. ¬†Our guide said usually though if they’re hunting they move quicker – this just appeared to be a casual scouting trip. ¬†Just then we saw a few of them bolt and the whole pack took off in a full sprint in smaller groups but all headed in the same general direction. ¬†We took off after them and barrelled through the bush hot on their heels. Right, then left, then right again and then we arrived at the scene. They had just taken down an impala and we weren’t more than 5 to 10 seconds behind. ¬†It was a bit gruesome so I’ll spare some of the details but wow – I never expected to see wild dogs – let alone watch them hunt and take down a meal. ¬†These no longer looked like domesticated dogs. They were fearsome killers and very efficient at their job. ¬†After¬†they ate, they milled around yipping and bonding and watching us. ¬†It was a bit unnerving. ¬†I’ve had many encounters so far with predators looking at us – lions, hyenas and leopards that appear to be looking you in the eye even though the guide swears they only see the vehicle as one large thing and not individual people inside the vehicle. ¬†This though felt different somehow since I just watched them do what they do best – kill their dinner. ¬†They settled down and we left them and headed to a safe spot to have our sundowners. We stopped at another pond a good distance away and had our last sundowners of the vacation. Sad. We had a nice send off though as the sunset was one of the prettiest we’d seen, especially with the reflection off the water.

Here are the dogs:

The last sundowners of the trip: