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Trip Reports

Etosha National Park, Namibia

written by Monique Fallows

Elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Posted on Tuesday, 15 October 2013

I am sure many of you have places that you go back to time and time again. Namibia is one such country for Chris and I. Even though this was to be our 10th visit our month long trip would still be taking us to a remote part of Namibia that we had not been to before. We were extremely excited to spend time in The Kaokaveld but we tried not to think about it too much as we were starting our trip with a two week stay in Etosha National Park.

 

 

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park spans 22,000 km2 and is dominated by a huge salt pan and surrounding grasslands and open plains. We normally try to time our visit here at the very peak of the dry season. Conditions can be uncomfortably hot and extremely dusty but it can provide spectacular sights and behaviour.

Normally the only available water is at the waterholes that are pumped or at a number of large natural springs that are scattered throughout the park. The plains game need to drink each day and this can provide very good hunting opportunities for lions, especially as they stake out the waterholes and lie in predatory wait.

The numbers of zebra, wildebeest and springbok reached astounding numbers at the main waterholes, peak numbers normally swelling around 10.30 each morning as the heat would build. On one particular occasion we estimated 1000 zebra gathered at the famous “Rietfontein” spring, it was an amazing sight.

Every day we were treated to classic African sunsets with a huge red ball sinking below the horizon or a blood red or orange sky providing spectacular backgrounds for the plains game. These are the kind of sights that really make me want to return to the bush again and again…

 

 

Lions

At first light each morning we would be on the lookout for predators, especially lions. Most days we would find prides of lions at waterholes having an early morning drink. There were two large prides around Okaukuejo Camp, a pride of 18 and a pride of 20. And all through the park we had good luck sighting other prides.

One morning we came across an adult female and 3 sub adult males. Even though the males were almost fully grown there was one mischievous lion that delighted in chasing and play fighting with his mum and brothers. We found them over a four day period and each time as they lay up in the bushes around the waterhole after drinking we set ourselves up for the long wait for a possible predator/prey interaction.

It is amazing how the prey instinctively know that danger is imminent. When the lions were present, albeit unseen, they proceeded with ultra caution towards the waterhole. The springbok were always the first to press on. They are the fastest of the regular game at the waterholes  so they obviously rate their chances.

 

 

Once the springbok start moving in the pressure of hundreds of lined up zebras increases until eventually the lead zebra have to move in. It is likely that they can smell the presence of lions and when they are aware like this it just takes one springbok or zebra to react defensively and the entire herd will charge away from the water in flight, the result being a spectacular explosion of water, dust and scattering hooves.. The lioness did on one occasion give chase to the fleeing herds but was unsuccessful.

When the situation is set up like I have just described it is full of drama and makes the hours spent waiting for something to happen go by very quickly and each minute is filled with tension, nothing much beats watching dramatic animal behaviour. 

We also came across an interesting mating situation. Normally when a lioness goes on heat she will pair off with her lion partner and the 2 of them spend a few days together mating hundreds of times over a short period.

The unusual situation we found was no less than 3 pairs of mating lions sharing a waterhole. I am sure that this would make for a great pride of lions to see once they all have cubs at the same time!

The problem was there were 3 lioness and 4 lions. The poor lion that was left out was extremely unhappy and was stalking around the waterhole in a foul mood! At one point he thought he could sneak in on a lioness while her partner was not watching him. This ended in a highly charged fight between the 2 males. The noise was just as impressive as the sight.

Shortly after this another hyena, then two and very quickly a total of 5 hyenas had all swam out to the middle of the waterhole and were diving below to feed.

Leopards

As mentioned, this was our 10th trip to Etosha. On these trips we had previously seen a total of 9 leopards. You can never see enough leopards but we had been happy up to this point. So, this should give you an idea of how lucky we were to see a total of 7 leopard sightings during our 2 week stay.

The best sightings we had was of an exquisitely beautiful female leopard that had made a habit of an early evening drinks at Rietfontein waterhole. She was very accommodating and chose to drink when the light was at its best and at the water closest to where the cars could park. She was obviously used to cars and was very relaxed on each of the 3 times that we saw her. What a privilege to have spent time with her!

We also had 3 sightings of a large male leopard, also close to Rietfontein waterhole, who twice cached his kill in a tree close to the road.

It’s hard to believe that we will have the same luck again next time so we certainly made the most of admiring these slinky and sometimes elusive cats.  

 

           

 

Honey Badgers

Honey badgers are certainly one of our favourite animals. They have huge character which is portrayed by their macho gait and they willingness to take on lions! You don’t see them too often but we have spent time with fairly habituated honey badgers that have made their home at Halali Restcamp.

We were expecting to see them here but were not so much expecting the 4 separate sightings we had of different individuals in the bush whilst out on game drives.

We think this was mostly due to how dry the bush was, making it easier to see them and also making all wildlife more concentrated in certain areas.

You can see on Chris images how huge their claws are. These images were taken as we watched them foraging and digging for food which could have ranged from scorpions to mice.

 

 

Our other sightings came from in the restcamp. These guys were more bold than ever. Normally they would come out after everyone has gone to bed and previously we would lie in our tent listening to them tipping over all the rubbish bins.

This time round they would start their campsite foraging early evening and were sometimes still present just as the sun was coming up the next morning.

But, the best experiences was of watching them playing on 2 difference occasions.

One evening we were making our way up to the waterhole when we came across 2 young male honey badgers playing in the pathway.

We watched them for over 20 minutes are they growled and cavorted and chased each other down the path. Occasionally if the one honey badger managed to get out of its brother’s grasp it would turn and chase towards those of us that were watching them. They were not being aggressive in any way to us, but they certainly wanted to play…. Those claws were a little intimidating though!

On our last night in Halali we again came across 4 honey badgers on the path leading up to the waterhole. These 4 were also having a huge playfight and we followed them as they ran down the path together towards the campsite.

Once they arrived in camp they immediately dived into a make-shift honey- badger- swimming- pool! This was of course a leaking water pipe that had spilled into a depression in the ground. The honey badgers were diving in and out and splashing about, it was a magic and heart-warming sight. Once the swim was over they raced into one of cleaners’ storeroom and continued “the game”. Only once they had completely tired each other out did they even think to start roaming the camp in search of food!

Even though these were habituated animals seeing them and spending time with them was one of the highlights of our month-long trip!

 

Diving Hyena's

Really? That’s what we said too! Here follows a rather unusual account of sub aqua carcass feeding…

We arrived at Goas waterhole at around 10.30am one morning to find a total of nine hyenas gathered around the waterhole. So, right away we knew something was up.

In the middle and deepest part there was one hyena “swimming”.  She was having a great time ducking under the water multiple times and staying under for up to 10 seconds at a time.

This was the first time we had seen this kind of behaviour and we had a very good laugh at this comical scene until we worked out what was actually going on.

Every so often the hyena would emerge with a piece of flesh and then dive under again. So, we began to surmise that an animal had died in the waterhole and the hyenas had discovered the carcass and a unique feeding opportunity.

After a while this hyena tired and swam to “shore” only to be hounded and chased down by the other hyenas who were obviously hoping she had brought something to share. Shortly after this another hyena, then two and very quickly a total of 5 hyenas had all swam out to the middle of the waterhole and were diving below to feed.

We observed that they were always hesitant to take the first dive, which would always be a short one proceeded by a good shake. After that they were more than happy to dive and stay down for up to 15 seconds at a time. We could only imagine what the scene must have looked like down there with hyenas tearing off hunks of meat underwater.

As soon as one would emerge they would be hounded and attacked by the other swimmers who were obviously hoping for a free meal. Not only were we seeing the amazing behaviour of diving hyenas but great interactions between the individuals in the clan as well.

We have since spoken to many of our “bush” friends and no one we know has seen this.

But, the hyenas didn’t look completely uncomfortable so we are sure that they have done this before.

When we returned later in the afternoon they had managed to drag the carcass out of the waterhole and the whole clan was feeding on the bank. Unfortunately we missed them dragging the carcass out but it did allow us to learn that it was a full grown adult kudu bull.

We surmise that the hyenas had chased and possibly injured the kudu that must have run into the waterhole thinking this was its only escape, but then must have died from its injuries whilst still in the water.

 

 

We are totally amazed that the hyenas were then willing to dive underwater in order to feed on the carcass. About five days later we arrived at Goas in the early morning to see the same hyena clan feeding on yet another adult kudu bull that they had caught very close to the waterhole. So, watch this space… it appears this could be a specialist waterhole diving and hunting hyena clan… 

 

There were so many highlights from our 2 week stay in Etosha that it is difficult to choose one that truly stands out, reminding us once again why we try to visit here each year.

 

Throughout our stay we tried not to think about the next part of our holiday so that we could enjoy Etosha but as we drove out of the Park gates a new adventure awaited us, 2 weeks in Kaokaveld and a totally new experience for us…

Tags:

Wildlife, Etosha National Park - Namibia

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