The Wildlife of Namibia

Last month's Travelon dealt with a recent trip to Namibia, which is mostly a desert country, however, the article only covered a small portion of this great West African country and I did not want to miss an opportunity to talk about the wildlife, which is so plentiful, especially in the Northern region.

The enormous national reserve in Namibia is called Etosha and is larger than Lake Ontario. It is home to numerous species of wildlife, including elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, dozens of antelopes, as well as 40% of the world's cheetah population.

There are several lodges in the Park and quite a few on the outskirts. I had the pleasure of spending four days there, exploring different areas, each time. The North is a bit dangerous as it borders on Angola, a country where crime runs rampant.

The roads are mostly gravel. However, due to the wildlife driving more than 40 km. an hour is not done. My Land Rover was geared for the terrain and handled the rough roads, dusty sand and hot temperatures with no problem. A vast part of Etosha is a lake which only has water in it several weeks a year, mostly in February. The temperatures get into the mid-thirties, and it is extremely dry.

During my very first trek into the reserve, I came upon a watering hole with well over 40 elephants. It was absolutely unbelievable. Once you become accustomed to the elephants you begin to realize there are hundreds of other animals in the vicinity waiting their turn for a drink. There seems to be a pecking order, mostly governed by size. There were wildebeests (gnus) and kudus, hundreds of springbok and many oryx. The oryx are interesting because they only drink two or three times a year. They get their moisture from what little plant life there is, but like a camel store it for use when they need it.

Early the next morning I was on the prowl for predatory cats and after having seen a number of cheetahs I suddenly saw a leopard jump in front of the car and stand beside it, staring inquisitively. I stopped immediately, rolled down the window and began taking photographs. The leopard sat for a while, walked back and forth a little, sat some more and crouched several times, as if it was going to lunge. It stayed for a good half-hour, which made for an incredible experience. The beauty of the animal made you want to reach out and touch it; however, I refrained.

The next day we went to an area widespread with zebras, as far as the eye could see. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of the striped animals wandering everywhere and coming within a meter or two of my vehicle. I found it interesting that the zebras have very large stomachs, thinking they were pregnant. My guide explained that the food they eat causes them to develop large amounts of gas, something which was evident as soon as I rolled down the window.

I've been to Africa a number of times but never get tired of watching the abundance of wild animals in their natural habitat. The fierceness of the hyenas and the stealth of the ravenous cats is something I can watch for hours. You have to be out of the park by sundown, which is probably a good thing; because I'm sure I look like dinner to a lot of the animals I saw.

I was disappointed after 3 1/2 days at only seeing one rhino and he was lying under a tree asleep. I drove to the area where rhinos had been spotted as dusk set upon us, and as I was about to leave, two rhinos suddenly came out of the bushes about four metres from the car. Apparently I was downwind and their eyesight is very bad, or so I was assured by my guide, after I had asked if they would charge us? I was a little apprehensive because they were staring directly at me and if they decided to charge I would be history. I watched them for a good 45 minutes and when the wind changed they got a whiff of my car and slowly galloped away.

It was getting dark and there was a lightning storm approaching, making for an interesting exit from the reserve. The animals are so numerous that it takes hours to drive a few kilometres in the dark. One has to be very careful because they wander across the road or jump out unexpectedly. I was fortunate and eventually made it back to lodge without incident.

Namibia is one of the top travel destinations for 2015 and if you have an opportunity to visit I would highly recommend it. Make sure you cover both the North and South because the country has unbelievable treasures for tourists.

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