Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Etosha Park with lion, zebra, elephants, and more! (Feb 1-3)

Current Location: Etosha National Park, Namibia.

Highlights: Lions, aardwolf, giraffe, zebra, springbok, impala and lots more of Africas wild game.

Upcoming: The Bushman People and back to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and Cheetah Conservation, then off into Botswanas central Kalahari.

Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 19.177 LONG: E 15.921

Very reluctantly we said good bye to Ben, our Himba guide and left Kaokoland and the town of Opuwo for the wild open pan and wild game of Etosha National Park (Namibias premier game park). Our first surprise was the tarred road, amazing to be on a tarred road after several thousand miles on good to terrible gravel and rock roads. Our second surprise was to see other cars on the road as we would not see any other cars on some days in Kaokoland. We decided to drive along the back roads to the western gate into Etosha Park and ended up driving several hours past sundown. We were rewarded with sightings of giraffe, many night birds, and most excitingly, an aardwolf (related to the hyena), and one of Africas small nocturnal cats which we could not identify. We set up camp on the side of the road about 15 kms from the entrance gate (to save money on accommodation!) so we could enter the park at first light as the gates opened.

Etosha was more expensive than we thought, costing N$135 to camp per night and N$80 per day entrance fees (US$1= N$6). Within just a few hours inside the park we saw dozens of zebra, springbok, wildebeest, and oryx while en route for a water hole. The best part was that this is the season when the baby animals are born, so there were dozens and dozens of the cutest baby zebra, springbok, and wildebeest. Many must have only been days if not hours old as they were still wobbly on their feet. The water hole was even more crowded with animals, adults and babies, coming from miles around to drink. We sat at the water hole for about an hour and watched young male zebra engage in short fighting matches with their peers often rearing up on their back legs or bucking with making loud noises, and streams of animals come and go. Then the water hole appeared to clear at the center with animals standing on the periphery. Three female lions walked into the scene to drink and sat there for about an hour while the other animals waited patiently in the intense summer heat of the pan. The lionesses then walked to a tree close to the Landy and were joined by another lioness. As they walked to the shade of the tree, a large male lion came out from under another tree, then went back to the shade. We spent about another hour just watching the 4 lionesses under the tree, listening to their loud panting and watching the occasional yawn.

We left the waterhole and lions as activity had slowed right down because it was in the full heat of the summer day when the animals seem to disappear. We spent the next two days driving many of the parks roads and visiting many of the waterholes. At night we saw two black rhino visit a waterhole at one of the camps as well as a large elephant. We mostly saw zebra, oryx, wildebeest, springbok, elephant, and lots of giraffe. The morning of the last day we saw another lioness on the pan in the east side of the park. She was intensely watching the other animals and I am convinced she was on a hunt and very excited at the prospect of seeing a kill. She then walked towards the Landy. Ordinarily this makes your heart rate go up as this huge cat comes closer. This time it made our heart rates race and adrenaline pump. You see we had removed the door tops of the Landy which leaves a very large hole through which we could film and take pictures. This also leaves a huge gap with no barrier between you and this very large and powerful cat. She walked to within about 3 meters of the Landy and Aarons video camera and my camera lens. She then stopped behind the Landy for a moment and walked on into the bush. What a thrill and I think we got some great video and pictures. We will digitize the video and put on the web site soon, but you will have to wait to see the pictures later when I get the film developed, as I didn’t have time to take any digital pictures.

We left Etosha Park en route for Bushman land to the east. We will go into our experiences with the Bushman in the next diary entry. In the meantime I should correct some mistakes I made in the last diary entry. We have now covered 14 000 km (8400 miles), with about 5000 km (3000 miles) in the last 2.5 weeks and most of this off-road driving. I think my estimate of a total trip distance of 30 000 km is a little on the conservative side! The Landy has been doing great, although I have been pushing it hard often running the engine for 12 plus hours per day, especially on the poor dirt tracks of Kaokoland that go through dry river bed after dry river bead every 50 meters or so. Some of these have steep sides and narrow bottoms so you whoosh down, bottom out (sometimes) and zoom back up. I know I should slow down time, but we have gone through literally hundreds of these and they are mostly OK to drive through at speed, but sometimes the Landy really takes a pounding when it hits the bottom. It’s a good job I had the reinforcing welding done on the chassis!

If any of the students in the teacher education class at ASU East read this, I have replied to your e-mails, but have yet to send them. We have had very little time over the last few days and driven long hours most days.

PICS: Lions under a tree and a lion through the Steiner binoculars, giraffe, some zebra, Geobear enjoying the view, me with two huge mushrooms from a termite mound which we ate for dinner that night (remember the termite mound we dug up a few weeks ago?, and Aaron filming an elephnat (note that the door tops have been removed, one nice feature of the Landy!)

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