Etosha National Park
The Etosha National Park is one of the most important game reserves in Africa. Within Namibia it is by far the most important and best known national park.
Today the park covers an area of almost 22300 km², which has been completely fenced in to protect the wildlife. In the east of the park area there is a salt pan of about 5000 km², which was formed when the Kunene’s inland delta gradually dried up due to the relocation of the river bed about 2 million years ago.
Today’s Etosha National Park was already declared a nature reserve under German administration in 1907 by Friedrich von Lindequist, then Governor of German South West Africa, because the formerly rich game population had been almost completely exterminated by poaching and unrestrained big game hunting. The protected area at that time was four times as large as the present one. Since then it has been reduced in size several times and at the beginning of the 1970s was given its present boundaries. These were finally provided with an 850 km long fence in 1973. Although it was designed as a protection, this fence also causes problems.
The natural balance has been disturbed for a long time. The habitat of the herds of wild animals that once roamed the entire continent is severely restricted, and some species multiply too much. These include, in particular, elephants, which cause severe devastation, and some predators, which all too easily find prey. The fencing of the park area also means that the animals living there are dependent on the available water supply. This is why the water is supplied through water holes, some of which are of natural origin, but also artificially. Permanent water holes can be found on the south side of the salt lake, because rainwater seeping through the limestone collects on the impermeable clay soil and flows due to the natural gradient to the south, where it partly escapes again. In the western part of the park, which is not yet accessible to tourists without a guide, there are only five natural and 27 artificial water points, while in the eastern part there are 29 natural and 12 artificial water points. These offer the best opportunities for game viewing to tourists, especially during the dry season months. Maps of the national park are available at the entrance gates, showing the water holes and their access routes.
Altogether there are four entrances: In the east the Lindequist-Gate; in the north the Nahale IyaMpinga Gate (or King Nehale Gate); in the south the Andersson Gate and in the west the Galton Gate, which can only be passed by all visitors since 2014.
There are strict rules for visitors to the National Park: The gates to the National Park open at sunrise and close at dusk. By nightfall, visitors must have reached the camp or left the park (sunrise and sunset times are posted on the park gates). Traffic rules, especially speed limits (50km/h on gravel roads), must be strictly observed.
At the end of September 2011, a devastating bush fire raged in Etosha National Park, presumably caused by the production of charcoal on farms in the park’s peripheral zone. The dreadful outcome of the fire was the biggest loss of game in the country’s recent history: 25 black rhinos, five white rhinos, 11 elephants, 60 giraffes, 30 kudus and three lions died in the flames. In addition, thousands of hectares of grazing burned in Etosha itself and on adjacent farms.
The German-language Allgemeine Zeitung attacked the park administration and indirectly blamed the poor management of the park for the fiasco. Under the headline Etoscha – factual care is missing the author writes in the issue of 19.10.2011 among other things: (…) “The Etosha National Park is by definition a giant game farm that must be monitored, managed and cared for. The national park cannot be left to itself and certainly not to chance. The current game wardens are aware of this, but they lack the relevant experience that the previous colonial guard had, though it did not hold up under the new government. For the government, income from tourism in the Etosha National Park is most important. Money-making and jobs are the order of the day, hence the luxury of the rest camps and prohibitive proliferation tariffs. The SWAPO government leaves research and scientific environmental management to a few civil organisations, but they have no say in the park. The Etosha National Park has now suffered a bitter revenge. Managing and preserving natural heritage is more than just operating rest camps and taking care of livestock. …”
The animals of the National Park
Etosha National Park has 114 mammal species, 340 bird species and 110 reptile species. However, there are no buffalos, hippos, crocodiles or monkeys in the park.
In the bird world of the park, one third of the 340 species counted belong to the migratory birds, which can be observed in large numbers during the rainy season, especially in the Fischer Pan in the east of the park area. Large wading birds as well as pink and dwarf flamingos gather here. The 35 species of birds of prey include the black kite, the steppe eagle, the red-footed falcon, the red falcon and the dwarf eagle. Eight owl species are represented in the national park, including the pearl sparrow owl, the spotted owl, the southern tufted owl and the white-faced owl. The vultures are represented by cap vultures, Egyptian vultures, cap vultures, ear vultures, palm vultures and white-backed vultures. Among the rarest bird species are the curlew, the black-tailed godwit, the brown-throated heron, the Goliath and purple heron, the Little bittern and the Dwarf bittern, as well as the Wattled crane and the Crowned crane. Near the Halali rest camp you can observe the Black-lored Babbler (Turdoides melanops) and the Violet wood hoopoe. At the Kalkheuwel waterhole you can see with a little luck the rare blue-yellow parrots and the Monteiro-Toko.