Thursday, March 12, 2009

Critters of Etosha

Many tourists go on safari to see the Big 5: the Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and Rhinocerous. These five animals were originally viewed as the most dangerous to hunt, since they could ... and would ... fight back. But today they are marketed as the key sightings on an African safari.

So, how many of the Big 5 did we see in our two days at Namibia's Etosha National Park? Zero. We saw some footprints from lion and elephants and we saw a good deal of, er, elephant dung. But we didn't spy any of the critters themselves. And you know what? We weren't disappointed in the least.

There were mammals and birds everywhere. In two days of game drives (and we mean drives -- you aren't allowed out of the vehicles), we saw the following:


Giraffe (including several pairs of males fighting)
Plains Zebra (some very pregnant)
Greater Kudu
Dik Dik (world's smallest antelope)
Red Hartebeest
Black-backed Jackal
Warthog (who feed while down on the knees)
Tree Squirrel
Banded Mongoose (a family of several dozen)
Golden Mongoose
Bat (species unidentified)


Goliath Heron (world's largest heron)
Yellow-billed Stork
African Spoonbill
Egyptian Goose
Comb Duck
Southern Pochard
Maccoa Duck
Cape Teal
Red-billed Teal
Lappet-faced Vulture
White-backed Vulture
Brown Snake-Eagle
Red-billed Francolin
Helmeted Guineafowl
Blue CraneKori Bustard
Red-crested Korhaan
Crowned Lapwing
Blacksmith Lapwing
Common Greenshank
Grey Go-Away Bird
Lilac Breasted Roller
Purple Roller
European Roller
Grey Hornbill
Yellow-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Hornbill
European Bee-Eater
Swallowtail Bee-Eater
and dozens of more species


Rock Monitor Lizard (deceased)
Turtle (species unidentified)
Giant Millipedes (at least 10 inches)

So, why did we see so many birds and mammals but miss the Big 5? Well, it's been very wet of late, so the Etosha "pan" is full of water. That attracts legions of birds. But it also allows the mammals to spread out. If we had been here in the dry season, the mammals would have concentrated around scattered watering holes, making it much easier to see them, including the elusive Big 5.

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