Etosha's Extraordinary Elephants
Photography & article by
Nadya of OcelotEyes
- PART ONE -
No wildlife documentary on even the biggest screen can compare to the feeling of being near these incredible animals. I liked elephants before this trip – I returned with a deep, resonating LOVE for elephants and for Africa!
My father and I spent an incredible week photographing animals in Etosha National Park in Namibia - the highlight of our trip. Established as a game reserve in 1907, opening the gates to tourists in 1955, and attaining National Park status in 1967, Etosha is one of the largest National Parks in Africa – over 22,000 square kilometers – even though today it is only a quarter of its original size at the start of the century.
Its territory includes different landscapes and vegetation, and protects a wealth of animal species, many of them endangered – such as black rhino, cheetah, and black-faced impala. The National Park takes its name from the Etosha Pan, a fascinating feature of the landscape – basically a huge dry shallow depression in the landscape – takes up about 20% of the Park's territory.
There are different theories of how it formed - some say it once was a lake, that dried out when the river supplying it changed course, others say it was flattened out by a glacier during the ice age. There is a special viewing point where, during the dry months of the year, you can drive out a bit and admire the flatness, whiteness, and emptiness. During the rainy months, though, water can fill the pan, and life blossoms over what is normally just cracked white mud, inviting flocks of flamingoes to breed.
There are many different meanings to the name “Etosha” - English translations include “the Great White Place”, “Place of Dry Water”, “Place of Emptiness”, all referring to the Pan itself – though the Pan during dry months is hot and empty, not at all a good habitat for most animals.
I saw a stray ostrich there, but even he was within sight of the life-saving grassland at the edge. Surrounding the Pan, though, are various grasslands, woodlands of mopane and acacia trees, and shrublands of thorny bushes – these are the habitats of many different kinds of animals and birds. You can see herds and herds of springboks grazing, spot groups of impala finding shade in the midday sun, appreciate playful zebras at the waterholes, and admire the tall giraffes walking through the savannah. Even elephants can hide in trees a short distance from the road!
The dry season means that the vegetation is not all green, animals are visible, and sooner or later they will have to come to a waterhole to drink, so park at one you like - and just watch. If you get tired of endless herds of springbok and zebra at one waterhole, just move to the next one – and you might see giraffes, eland, kudu, or even a rare rhino or lion.
Some of the waterholes in the park are seasonal, filling only after the rains, others are year-round natural freshwater springs, but some are man-made or at least supplemented with piped water – solar panels hidden in the bushes power the machinery, ensuring that the animals always have a chance to drink.
In 1954, there were only about 26 elephants counted at the park. Today, you can see at least that many in a few hours at a waterhole! Etosha's elephant population today numbers at least 2,500 – and it's in Namibia's best interests to keep protecting these elephants.
Hopefully, poachers should not be too interested in them, because due to their arid environment and the minerals in the dry soil, the tusks of the Etosha elephants splinter and break before they become very large and valuable. They can also use their tusks to dig for water in the dry soil, which also contributes to breaking them – but helps all species in the area.
These elephants are studied by scientists, with research being done on their communication, the distances they travel, and even...their feet! Elephants can detect distant sounds through their feet – the rumbling of another herd travelling many kilometers away, for example. Etosha's elephants have evolved wider feet, to be able to walk softly on the dry ground – and perhaps to “hear” better?
Article to be continued tomorrow...
click HERE for part two
Before you do...
Want to learn more about elephants ?
One of my favourite charities, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya rescues orphaned baby elephants and rhinos, in order to hand-raise them until they are old enough to return to the protected wilderness: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
In Thailand, a wonderful sanctuary exists for overworked and abused Asian Elephants:
And even in Tennessee, USA, you can find a home for rescued elephants: