Apr 112015

It was our first full day in Etosha National Park. We camped at the Namutoni Resort which is a fenced compound owned by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), a private concession with properties all over the country. It’s fenced to keep predators (lions, leopards, hyaenas) and potentially grumpy herbivores (rhinos, elephants) out and visitors in, where they are safe and can’t annoy predators and potentially grumpy herbivores for at least a few hours every day.

The resort offers a variety of accommodations from camping to self-catering chalets, along with a reception and information office; gift shop; a small store with essentials and a selection of food, snacks, and beverages; a restaurant; and a gas station. Pretty much anything a visitor might want or need.

The gate at Namutoni and most other NWR resorts opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The specific times, updated weekly, are listed at the gate along with the official clock. Returning late, after the gate is closed, can result in a fine and expulsion from the park.

Driving in the dark is discouraged all over Africa. It’s considered dangerous because there aren’t street lights, and wildlife, as well as livestock and humans, cannot be readily seen on the road. Animals sometimes like lying on the warm road at night. Running into an elephant on the road in the dark isn’t a good thing.

On the other hand, if one drives slowly, the chance of hitting an animal is greatly reduced, and being people who want to see nocturnal animals, the unbendable rule is frustrating, as you will see.

We start our “evening” game drive at 2:00 p.m. The gate at the resort closes around 7:30 p.m. As we slowly make our way back to the resort and our campsite, enjoying the low light of the soon-to-set sun, Mike spots something in the distance that he wants to examine more closely. I don’t see what has caught his eye, so I hand him the better binoculars.

This is how it goes, all day long. Sometimes the thing that catches our eye is a rock or tree or shadow, but sometimes it’s an animal. We’ve got three sets of eyes in the truck, all practiced in spotting wildlife. If someone is compelled to stop for a closer look, we stop.

“Cat . . . I think,” Mike says, peering through the binoculars at brush. And then, “Yeah. Lion.”

We all look more closely. I still have no idea what caught his eye: color, shape, or movement. It is several seconds before I locate what he sees. It’s a crazy-lucky sighting. There’s a small yellowish head in a big patch of brush.

Lions appearing out of the brush where they spent the day sleeping in the shade.

Lions appearing out of the brush where they spent the day sleeping in the shade.

One lion. Two. Three. And then five appear out of the brush, stirring after a day of sleeping in the shade. For lions, the day starts when the sun sets.

Four lions approach, Etosha National Park

Four lions approach.

They approach the road, the truck, and us without hesitation. Etosha has been a park since 1907. The animals here are habituated to cars and people. We’re part of the landscape, not competition, not predators, not prey. The truck’s windows are open, but I’m not concerned. Safari vehicles are open; they have no walls or windows. The people inside are just part of the vehicle, and so are we.

Three lion cubs and a lioness.

Three lion cubs and a lioness.

The lions get close enough that we can see there are three cubs and two lionesses. The cubs are getting big, and their spots are fading. Their feet look huge.

Lions approach and cross the road

Lions approach and cross the road. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

They make straight for the road. One cub lies down a few feet from the truck.

A lion cub beside a lioness.

The cubs are getting big, but the lionesses are bigger. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The others cross a couple of feet in front of the truck. I wonder if they’re using the truck for cover. On the opposite side of the road, some distance away, springbok and zebra graze.

Lion cub yawning. Nice teeth.

Lion cub yawning. Nice teeth. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

They stretch and yawn, nuzzle and play. We’re just a few yards away, watching, snapping pictures, taking video.

Lion cub with snarl face.

Lion cub with snarl face.

Lucky timing gives us some funny images. This cub isn’t really snarling at us.

Lions on sand pile, one getting ready to pounce on the other.

Lion cubs practice pouncing.

Two cubs play on a sand pile. As soon as the one goes over the top, the other knows what’s coming and waits, alert.

Lion cub pouncing, Etosha National Park

Pounce! Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

And she’s ready.

Lion cub after pouncing, Etosha National Park

There, there.

It’s all in good fun.

Lion cub, Etosha National Park

Lion cub after a day’s snooze. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The lions lie down and wait to hunt.

Lioness looking out over the plain where springbok and zebra graze.

Lioness looking out over the plain where springbok and zebra graze.

Somewhere out there is dinner. She will find it, catch it, and kill it, teaching her cubs how it’s done.

We’d love to stay and watch longer, but the resort gate closes at 7:30. We set our destination on the GPS, and it tells us how long it will take to get there, which allows us to make good use of every available moment. It seems other park visitors have already returned. We are on one of the main roads, but we haven’t seen any other cars. We’ve had the lions entirely to ourselves.

The lions don’t startle or move when we start the truck and pull away. I wish them—and the springbok and zebra—good luck.

Apr 102015

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today, we moved to the far west resort area (Okaukuejo) in Etosha. We broke camp in the dark so we could be out the gate as soon as it opened. Our first wildlife sighting was in the campground: a honey badger raiding trash cans. I trapped it in one of the cans until Mike could get his camera, but it was dark, and the pictures are bad, so you have to Google “honey badger” if you want to see one.

As we move west in the park, it gets drier and drier. There are fewer trees and bushes. Sometimes there are none, just miles and miles of rocks interspersed with tiny, dry tufts of sharp, tough grass.

Zebras and Springbok at the Waterhole, Etosha National Park

Zebras and springbok take their turns at the waterhole. Click to see a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

As is typical in dry conditions, wildlife is concentrated around waterholes. Not just at waterholes, mind you, but within several miles of waterholes; food is limited, so the grazers and browsers need lots of space to find enough of it.

Some waterholes here in the park are man-made or at least man-maintained. Solar pumps keep waterholes filled. I was surprised to discover that many waterholes aren’t much more than puddles.

Animals particularly suited to this environment seem to be . . .

Mama Zebra and Baby, Etosha National Park

Mama zebra and baby.

. . . zebras. Okay, this picture wasn’t taken in a particularly dry area, but we saw pockets of zebras in the dry places, too.

While we’re looking at zebras, note the shadow stripes on the rump—the brown and gray stripes between the black ones—the mostly white legs, and the stripes that go down around the belly. Those details will be significant in a couple of days.

A group of springbok in Etosha National Park

Springbok, aka “cheetah food.” Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Springbok strike me as the impala of dry areas. There are tons of them, mostly congregated in herds.

You can click on this picture and see a larger version. See how crispy the grass looks? Now look at the horizon: There’s a big, dry, hot pan out there. And what do you suppose these springbok do for shade? Nothing! We saw them just lie down in the sun during the heat of the day. Gah! It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like to be able to tolerate that. I find the sun on my skin actually painful. Despite the heat, I wear long sleeves and long pants so the sun can’t bore into my skin. The sun is worse than the heat, which, frankly, is unbearable.

According to the wildlife book, springbok can live without surface water. So can these guys:

Gemsbok with normal horns, and a gemsbok with curved horns.

Gemsbok horn comparison.

Gemsbok (pronounced HEMS-bok). It’s also called an oryx, but I now understand there are other kinds of oryxes, too, so maybe I’ll stick with “gemsbok.” They’re one of the bigger antelope, up to four feet tall at the shoulder.

Their horns are supposed to be straight, like those of the gemsbok in the top picture. But nature has its variations, and sometimes we come across a gemsbok with wonky horns. The nicely delineated color pattern of the fur, however, tends to be fairly consistent. Males and females look alike, fur, horns, and all.

The drier the environment got, the more gemsbok we saw. Herds of them, sometimes.

Like how I got two pictures in one here? Sneaky, sneaky! And I’m going to do it again.

Ostrich head up. Ostrich head down.

Ostrich head up. Ostrich head down.

We’re also seeing ostriches here in the drier part of the park. Another way in which they’re like ballerinas is in their flexibility. I’m talking about their necks. They stretch high; they stretch low. They can walk with their heads up or down depending on what they want to look at, or according to any other neck-altering whim.

The giraffes must be crazy-jealous of this flexibility. Ostriches have no trouble drinking from a puddle.

Springbok and Wildebeest, Etosha National Park

Shade seekers (springbok) and food seekers (wildebeest). Yep, you can click this one, too.

Springbok and gemsbok alike will take advantage of shade if it’s available, and sometimes it is. There are a few trees out here. Springbok seem to share shade more than gemsbok do.

European Bee Eater, Etosha National Park

A European bee eater from the front. Love that turquoise belly!

I wouldn’t say we’re seeing more of them now, but we’re still seeing bee eaters. This is the belly side of a European bee eater. We saw the rust- and olive-colored back side a day or two ago.

Spotted hyena, Etosha National Park

Spotted hyena eating or drinking or suctioning something off the ground.

We’re seeing fewer hyenas, to be sure. We saw this one on our way out of Halali this morning. I find the jowls on this hyena strangely enormous. They look like a tent. Where did all that skin come from? Normally, a hyena mouth looks like a non-jowly dog mouth. So what’s with the jowls here? I have no idea! I presume the animal is eating something, or attempting to eat something. Is it trying to suck something up out of the ground? Inquiring minds want to know. Any ideas?

My favorite photos of the day are these:

A pile o' lions.

A pile o’ lions. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

As we headed back to camp for a break (and cool shower) during the heat of the day, we came upon this pile o’ lions. There was but one tree in the vicinity, and all the lions wanted to be in the shade. Who can blame them? It was about 100 degrees out.

You can’t see them all in this picture, but there were eight lions in this pile. A ninth lion found shade for one behind a fairly tiny bush.

Jen in the truck videoing a lion walking behind the truck.

Videoing the lions as they walked past the truck.

That evening, however, as the sun lost its power, they began to stir and decided they wanted to be on the other side of the road.

Lions in Etosha National Park

See them? See all of them?

We hung around and watched them wake up, survey their domain, and wait for the cover of darkness to hunt.

If you don’t see five lions in this picture, click for a larger version, and look again.

Lioness, Etosha National Park

Lioness glamour shot. Yep, you can click this one, too.

There’s really not a lot more to the story here, but there are more pictures, so they’ll get their own post eventually.

Apr 092015

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Another day in Halali and the surrounding area.

Female leopard, Etosha National Park

Nope, not the same leopard as yesterday, but the same leopard story.

The leopard saga continues. We have a brief encounter with our third leopard. It’s really just a small, walk-on part in the show, but since it’s a leopard, it’s exciting. She can’t help but be gorgeous and dramatic.

Male kudu, Etosha National Park

A handsome kudu.

Just like a male kudu with spiraling horns can’t help but be impressive. What’s a kudu to do?

Lions at the waterhole, Etosha National Park

Waterhole closed: Lions present. Not really, but it might as well be. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Lions, on the other hand . . . wait. No, they’re always impressive, too. It seems a little unfair of them to just kick back around the waterhole. When the lions are there, no one else goes near. We saw impala, kudu, and hartebeest decide they weren’t that thirsty after all.

This is another mating pair, but you’ve already seen that.

Spotted hyena with a distended belly, Etosha National Park

Look at that distended belly. Pregnant, do you suppose, or full?

Hyenas wish they had that kind of effect on other animals.

Hartebeest in a hurry, Etosha National Park

Hartebeest in a hurry. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

See? Not that thirsty. And rather late for . . . oh, you know, that thing.

Are you sick of big cats and antelope yet? (I’m not, and I’ve seen way more than you have.)

Kori Bustard, Etosha National Park

Kori Bustard, Etosha National Park

You haven’t seen one of these in a while. A Kori bustard. They seem to thrive in the dry, dry, dry areas. They’re a favorite of Mike’s, and I like them, too, but I think it wouldn’t hurt to have at least a little splash of color.

Pale Chanting Goshawk, Etosha National Park

Pale chanting goshawk.

The neon orange bill and legs and the descriptive name make the pale chanting goshawk my favorite hawk. I don’t think I’ve heard them chant, though. I’d like to hear that.

European Bee Eater, Etosha National Park

What colors! European bee eater.

Of course, when it comes to color, it’s hard to top a bee eater. This is a European bee eater. Bee eaters were the birds hovering and flying next to the truck in Savuti.

Extra-wrinkly Elephant, Etosha National Park

Would you like extra wrinkles with that?

This elephant got extra wrinkles. Is that the wrinkliest trunk you’ve seen or what?

Rock python, Etosha National Park

Rock python, we think.

No wrinkles on this guy or gal; she’s smooooooth. She was in the middle of the road after a brief rain shower. I believe she is a rock python, about five feet long. She didn’t speed off the road, zigging and zagging in a serpentine fashion, as did the black mamba we saw on the South Gate road. Instead, she calmly and cooly proceeded to gracefully slither off in a straight line, her body muscles contracting and relaxing almost imperceptibly.

That doesn’t mean she can’t move fast when she has to. While filming her approaching the truck, and wanting to get every inch of her on the video, Mike let her get a little closer than he intended. When he pulled away, she startled and made a beeline (snakeline?) for cover on the side of the road.

And my favorite pictures from the day are these two:

Dark zebra, jackal, and springbok, Etosha National Park

Dark zebra, jackal, and springbok.

Look how dark this zebra is! His black stripes are wide and his white stripes are narrow giving him an overall darker-than-the-others look. He stands out from the crowd.

He also stands out from this picture. It looks fake to me, a poorly crafted composite. The zebra and jackal look as though they were PhotoShopped in, but they weren’t. This photo isn’t even cropped; it was composed in-camera, just like you see it. Those are blurry springbok in the background.

Jackal and springbok, Etosha National Park

Springbok and jackal.

This is another shot in the same place, this time with the springbok in focus. It looks fake, too, doesn’t it? I mucked with the contrast on this one, but that’s all.

I don’t think I’ve posted jackals or springbok in the Daily Dozen, but we see lots of them: hundreds of springbok and dozens of jackals. Seeing so many makes them less special in a way, but they’re cool in their own right.

Springbok are like impala in size and number. Mike calls them cheetah food, which is true. They’re lithe and lovely, and I adore the racing stripes along their sides.

Jackals are small dogs, but they can be formidable hunters. They scavange, too.

A jackal appeared while we were watching a pride of nine (!) lions wake up from the day’s slumber. It yapped and whined and paced, calling two more jackals to the scene. The jackals kept their distance but hung around the cats. The lions ignored them. I don’t know this, but I’m thinking that the jackals might trail the lions this evening in hopes of scavenging something from their kill. Surely, a pride of nine lions is going to take something down, right?

Arctic foxes trail polar bears, eating their scraps. It’s a proven dining strategy.

Apr 082015

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today we drove from Namutoni to Halali in Etosha National Park where there is another Namibia Wildlife Resort.

Etosha National Park contains a giant salt pan that’s big enough to be visible from outer space. That pan, which is currently dry, is essentially a desert. The far side disappears on the horizon, blurry with heat shimmers. The idea of crossing the pan makes my insides feel hollow. Heat, sand, and no water frightens me.

Presumably, though, since this is a pan, there is water here from time to time. I try to imagine what that’s like.

There is nothing out on the pan just now, but on the grassy plains nearby we see the usual suspects.

Mama wartog and babies, Etosha National Park

Mama wartog and babies, Etosha National Park.

A warthog mama leads her babies to a waterhole. Mama is about two feet tall at the shoulder.

Mama Zebra and nursing baby, Etosha National Park

Baby zebra nursing.

A zebra mama nurses her baby. Notice how Mama’s black stripes are especially narrow. She appears lighter than other zebras.

Zebra stripes, Etosha National Park

Zebra stripes.

How many times have I said it? Zebra stripes are mesmerizing. How clean the lines are. How interesting that they extend up the mane. Beautiful. And each zebra’s stripes are different.

Four giraffes, Etosha National Park

Giraffes on their way to the waterhole. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Giraffes. Does anyone else hear spaghetti-western music when looking at this picture? Click for a bigger image and see if you hear it.

Female steenbok, Etosha National Park

A female steenbok. So dainty.

Lady steenbok. She’s dainty, less than two feet high. She lives alone or with a male and/or her offspring. She doesn’t rely on surface water, and she buries her urine and feces. We’ve seen her kin just about everywhere we’ve been.

Note her big, beautiful ears. The dark pattern in the middle, like leaf veins, is where there is no long, white hair. She’s a dear but not a deer; she’s an elegant antelope.

And then there were some not-so-usual suspects . . .

Spotted Hyena, Etosha National Park

A spotted hyena in Etosha National Park.

Finally! A spotted hyena. I’ve been eager to see hyenas, and they didn’t disappoint. There were several in the vicinity of a waterhole. They were walking amongst giraffes and impala, looking longingly at all of them, but the other animals paid them no nevermind.

Impalas unconcerned about a hyena nearby, Etosha National Park

Dissed and dismissed. Impalas pay no attention to the hungry hyena behind them.

Hyenas seem to get little respect as predators. They’re also scavengers that steal other predators’ kills, which may explain their problem getting respect.

Hyena family, Etosha National Park

Adult hyenas check in with snoozing young at a waterhole.

But they are also devoted family members. Three adults and a subadult visited, nuzzled, and played with four cubs while we watched at this waterhole. In this photo, three cubs are snoozing in a pile having just been visited by the two older family members. Raising young is a group effort.

Hyena drinking, Etosha National Park

A hyena quenching its thirst.

Whatever the other animals think, I find the hyenas endearing.

Red hartebeest, Etosha National Park

Red hartebeest, Etosha National Park

Another not-so-usual suspect we’re enjoying here in Etosha is the red hartebeest. We’ve seen a few, but not especially well. Here we’re seeing a good many.

They’re dark like the tsetsebes. In fact, they look a lot like tsetsebes, but they’re not quite as red (which begs the question, Why are hartebeest called ‘red’ while tsetsebes are not?); they lack the golden shins; their faces are more narrow; and their horns are a different shape. In general, I find tsetsebe pretty but hartebeest rather funny looking.

Red Hartebeest face profile, Etosha National Park

Profile of a hartebeest.

The funny-looking-ness begins with the very straight profile of the face. But tsetsebe have that, too, so there’s more to it than that. Wildebeest have a convex profile and all the other antelope have concave profiles.

What makes a hartebeest odd is the way the forehead extends a ways up the base of the horns. The top of the head is a sort of mesa upon which the horns sit. Tsetsebe do not have this. As far as I know, no other antelopes have this.

I think the sharply hooked horns are cool, though. They look like screw hooks to me, perfect for hanging things on. And the ridges on this guy’s horns are especially nice.

As great as all these animals are, they were not the highlight of the day. That, again, goes to a cat, . . .

Male leopard, Etosha National Park

Oh, my! Click for a larger image of this handsome leopard. Use your back button to return here.

. . . a magnificent male leopard. And again, you get just one picture. The story of this leopard is the animal highlight of the entire Africa trip. You’ll see more pictures and hear all about it another time. Until then, isn’t he gorgeous?

Apr 072015

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

After an early morning drive in Mangetti, we packed up and headed down the road to Tsumeb where we loaded up on provisions and had the car washed.

The car wash was behind the Spar grocery store where we shopped. A handful of young men had four canopies set up under which they washed cars. They had one power washer between them, a vacuum, buckets, rags, soap, and a water tap on the sidewalk. The sign said N$30 (thirty Namibian dollars) for double cabs, which is what we have, but a guy told Mike N$70 to do just the outside of our truck—we’re packed to the gills; no way were we unpacking to do the interior. Remember those mud puddles in Chobe? Our truck was a pretty serious mess. N$70 is less than 7 US dollars. We agreed to the price.

Our guy’s buddies laughed at him when we pulled the truck under his canopy. No worries. If our guy did a good job (he did, though not quickly), we’d tip him well (we did), and he’d have the last laugh.

With a clean truck, we drove to Etosha National Park where we planned to spend a week: two nights in each of three campgrounds at the resort areas within the park. The resort areas are private concessions owned by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), which owns properties throughout the country. Here in Etosha, the resorts are fenced compounds offering different kinds of accommodation, from camping to chalets. There is a restaurant, store, gas station, etc., pretty much everything a visitor would want or need.

Each of the three resorts also has a lighted waterhole just outside the fence, with a seating area inside the fence, so visitors can sit and watch what comes to drink, even after dark. That’s a nice feature.

Almost a year ago now, when I knew we were coming to Africa, and I started researching online, I discovered and fell in love with Etosha National Park. The photos and descriptions I read made this one of the places I most wanted to visit. And that’s in spite of a comparison often made between Etosha and Yellowstone regarding tremendous traffic jams during the peak season because of the popularity of the park and the vast number of visitors each park receives. I’ve been in Yellowstone traffic jams. They ruin the park as far as I’m concerned. I have no desire to go—zip, zilch, nada—during peak season, no matter how cool the park. My experience is ruined by masses of people. Sorry, people.

This isn’t the peak season in Etosha. It’s not even a shoulder season. It’s the off season, and for me, it’s the best possible time to visit. Whatever sacrifices we’re making are worth it for the low traffic we receive in exchange. We’re not alone in the campgrounds, but we see few cars during our drives. It’s perfect.

We arrived in time to do an afternoon drive, but these pics also include our first full day in Etosha. Sometimes I skipped a day of downloading, and we have two days’ photos in one file.

The first wildlife we saw in Etosha were . . .

Greater Flamingos, Etosha National Park

Whiter flamingos in Etosha. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

. . . flamingos in a pan with lots of water.

Greater Flamingo, Etosha National Park

I’m not saying it’s NOT greater. Maybe it’s the greatest flamingo alive. I don’t know.

There were both greater and lesser flamingos. I don’t like those names: they sound so judgmental. I prefer “whiter” (greater) and “pinker” (lesser). This is a whiter flamingo. When it flies, you can see brilliant pink and black stripes on the wings, and those long pink legs stretch gracefully out behind, toes pointed like divers or ballerinas. It’s striking. I have a lovely picture of that, but it wound up at #14, so it had to be cut. Maybe we’ll see flamingos tomorrow, too.

Black-faced Impala, Etosha National Park

Black-faced impala.

We also saw our first black-faced impalas. When there was a threat to black-faced impalas in northwest Namibia where they are originally from, someone collected a bunch and brought them to Etosha to assure the species survived. They thrived.

Male Kudus, Etosha National Park

Male kudu.

We also saw more kudu. Note that the white bar between the eyes is split in one but not the other. That seems common. I guess maybe the stripes on nyalas are more consistently split.

Secretary Bird, Etosha National Park

A secretary bird.

A secretary bird that isn’t walking away from us . . . yet. It never fails, as soon as we spy one of these way-cool, pantaloon-wearing birds, it turns its back and walks away. We have very few pictures of a secretary-bird face.

Giraffes drinking at the waterhole, Etosha National Park

Giraffes drinking at the waterhole, Etosha National Park.

No, these giraffes aren’t doing what the lions and mongooses were doing. No hanky-panky going on here; there’s just a line at the waterhole. Or that’s the quarterback and center of the giraffe football team.

Isn’t that splayed pose nuts? That’s quite the effort to get a drink of water. Giraffe design, while wildly interesting, is not especially logical.

Note the straight splayed legs here.

Giraffe drinking at the waterhole, Etosha National Park

Another giraffe drinking.

Not all giraffes drink with straight legs. The individual variations are interesting, I think.

Giraffe Alley, Etosha National Park

Giraffe alley. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

And there are oodles of giraffes who have to devise their own ways of getting their heads down to drink.

If I lived in the Bush in Africa, I think I’d build a waterhole designed specifically for giraffes, high off the ground with water to the tippy-top. I imagine giraffes would come from far and wide for such convenience.

I wonder if giraffes ever drink from waterfalls.

Also, they appear to plunge their mouths in to suck the water up, rather than lapping up the water with their tongues as dogs and cats do.

Marabou Stork, Etosha National Park

“It was this big,” said the Marabou stork.

Sharing the waterhole with these giraffes were several marabou storks, all standing with wings spread. Are they drying themselves like darters and cormorants? I don’t know the answer; I should find out.

Black Rhinoceros, Etosha National Park

A black rhino in Etosha.

Spotting a rhino was as thrilling as spotting the leopard in Mahango. I grabbed Mike’s wrist, pointed, and whisper-shouted, “Rhino!” He slammed on the brakes.

We know we need to be quiet, gentle, and smooth to not startle or frighten the animals, but sometimes that’s just plain impossible. I wasn’t expecting to see a rhinoceros. What a surprise!

After watching one walk away, we saw another one nearby. There’s some question about whether it was really a second rhino or the first one again as we rounded a corner, but I’m convinced it was a second rhino. The first rhino would have had to cover some distance, and it just wasn’t moving that fast, even when it was closer to us and wanting to get away.

It doesn’t matter. After these two, we saw another four elsewhere. I confess that the specialness of spotting a rhinoceros is somewhat diminished when you go on to see five more in a single day. Still, it’s a rhino! What a strange-looking animal.

There are black rhinos and white rhinos. The white rhinos are the most rare and endangered. What color is this rhinoceros? White? Gray? Indeed. But it’s a black rhino, not a white rhino. The distinction between white and black rhinos has nothing to do with their color. I think the animal namers would be hard pressed to come up with more stupid names. What happened to “greater” and “lesser”? That could refer to population numbers if not size.

Black Rhinoceros, Etosha National Park

Another white black rhino.

One distinction between the two rhinos is the chin shape. White rhinos have square chins while black rhinos have pointier, more oval ones. This guy/gal’s chin hardly looks pointy, I know, but it’s not square like the picture we have of a white rhino. Think: hippo jaw.

One theory about how the rhinos got their white/black names is that “white” resulted from the Afrikaans word “wijd,” which means “wide,” as in wide-jawed. There’s no strong evidence for this theory, though, and plenty of people disagree.

All six rhinos that we saw were this color, which, apparently, is due to the application of gray/white dust from the pans.

It’s really hard to choose a highlight from so many awesome sightings, but if I had to, it would have to be this:

Lion Cub, Etosha National Park

Lion cub in Etosha.

This is a lion cub outgrowing its spots. There were three young siblings with two adult lionesses. They walked out of the Bush directly to our truck and laid down just a few feet away, looking at us and out over the grassy plain where springbok and wildebeest grazed. I imagine they were selecting their dinner the way people sometimes select a lobster from a tank.

Watching these lions was aMAzing. I plan to tell you all about it . . . another time. I’m afraid I’ve used up my allotment of photos for the day.

Apr 062015

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today we left Divundu and Nunda Safari Lodge and headed to Rundu and Mangetti National Park.

Huts in a fenced compound in Namibia.

Huts in a fenced compound in Namibia. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

As we drive from place to place, I enjoy “drive-by shooting.” That is, taking pictures as we speed along on the road. The camera does an amazing job capturing scenes like this.

This is what I call a compound. It’s a group of mud huts with thatched roofs contained within a fence. These huts are square. The huts we saw in Maun were mostly round. I don’t know how many round-hut dwellers try to hang shelves on their walls, but I suspect square-hut dwellers have an easier time of it.

On our way to Mangetti National Park, we stopped in Rundu. Rundu is the largest town in this area, and we planned to top up our provisions, but it turned out to be—in our eyes, anyway—a disorganized madhouse. Loads of people walked and hung about. There was no grid or logical layout of roads and buildings. Ramshackle stands crammed into every nook and cranny between, around, and in front of unsigned rundown buildings. We opted to make do with what we had rather than attempt to navigate the roads, parking, and shopping. We got the heck out of Dodge.

Our destination was Mangetti National Park. It’s a new park. So new, in fact, that there is no sign for it on the main road. The sand track that leads to the main park entrance is unmarked; it could be any village road. We trusted our GPS.

The gate and reception office were equally unmarked and unremarkable. On the other hand, there is no fee to enter the park.

There are also no campgrounds in or around the park, but Sylvia, the ranger on duty, invited us to set up our tent right there inside the gate. She even offered up the bathroom and shower that she uses. All free.

Now, Sylvia is one bored park ranger. According to the register I signed, her last visitor was three days before we showed up. She and a male ranger stay there at the entrance for ten days at a time, opening the gate at 6:00 a.m. and closing it at 6:00 p.m. I’m not sure what there is to do when not helping guests; what we saw was a whole lot of sitting around.

Because we were camped inside the gate, Sylvia said we were free to hang around the waterholes until it got dark, driving back to the entrance in the dark. What a treat!

We got a little less excited after driving around that afternoon. The brush grew thick, right to the edge of the road, so the only chance we had to see something was if it was smack-dab on the road. Or at a waterhole. There were a few waterholes kept full year-round with solar pumps . . . that is, if the pumps worked, and at least one didn’t.

The big attraction for us at Mangetti was eland. They are the big daddies (and mommies) of antelope, up to 1.7 meters tall at the shoulder. We hadn’t seen any eland yet.

We scouted out our favorite waterhole and returned to it in the evening and again in the morning. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to hide the truck or even break up its outline, so we stuck out like a sore thumb. It mattered. All the animals, except perhaps the birds, were suspicious, cautious, and skittish. The bravest were the wildebeest.

Wildebeest at the waterhole in the early morning light.

Wildebeest at the waterhole in the early morning. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

They were the first to take a chance and approach the water.

The evening light was not good, so we took few pictures. Morning light was better but, of course, dim.

Wildebeest horns, Mangetti National Park

I am a wildebeest.

Of course, being so brave sometimes comes at a price.

This is the skull of a female wildebeest. The two horns are spaced apart. On males, the bases of the two horns grow together. The solid, smooshed-together base on males is called a “boss.”

Eland, Mangetti National Park

Eland, Mangetti National Park. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The books were right: There were eland here, and they showed up at the waterhole just as they’re supposed to, but they were skittish. In the dark morning, we heard them approach because the males click as they walk. Our books don’t tell us why eland click, but I would guess the reason is similar to why caribou click when they walk: a tendon in their ankles makes the noise.

Whatever the reason, we heard them approach before we saw them. They hovered back in the trees for a long time, wary of the giant white thing that was neither drinking nor leaving. The wildebeests’ success gave them courage, I guess, and they finally came down for a quick sip.

Biologists call that dangly bit of skin beneath the throat on males a “dewlap,” but it’s not very like the moose dewlaps I’m familiar with. It looks more like a napkin tucked beneath the eland’s chin, something on which to dab his lips after drinking from the pool.

I love the morning light in this photo. It looks fake or like a painting, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not.

We got very few pictures of these eland, and we never saw them anywhere else. We did, however, get extremely close to one individual at a different, almost-dried-up waterhole with a broken solar pump.

Dead eland.

Dead eland. This guy let us get really close.

I even got to touch its horn, which is pretty darn cool, what with the spirals at the base straightening into points. They don’t top kudu horns for me, but I like them a lot.

Marsh terrapin, Mangetti National Park

Marsh terrapin, Mangetti National Park

At this same dried-up waterhole we found a marsh terrapin that seemed to be setting out through the brush to find a not-dried-up waterhole. Poor thing.

One diagnostic feature of this turtle is that is retracts its head sideways. See it? Isn’t that funny?

Gymnogene, Mangetti National Park

Blushing gymnogene.

Back at the not-dry waterhole we also saw the ubiquitous flock of doves and a Gymnogene, or African Harrier-hawk. The hawk hoped to pick off a dove.

There’s something really interesting about the gymnogene: It’s bare yellow face patch turns red when the bird is agitated. It blushes, for crying out loud! And we saw this one blush!

That’s right. That’s a picture of a single individual. We watched its face blush. I have no idea what agitated it. It came in while we were there, so I don’t think it was us. I can only surmise that it was embarrassed about not catching a dove after a good many attempts . . . while being photographed. Oy. Predators have it tough.

Hoopoe, Mangetti National Park

Hoopoe, Mangetti National Park

Another bird we saw and caught on camera was a hoopoe, scientific name Upupa epops or Upupa africana depending on who you ask. We’ve seen them elsewhere, too. What cool-looking birds. The wings are striking when they fly, as is the crest when it’s unfolded, but it’s beautiful just sitting there, too.

Red Dragonfly, Mangetti National Park

Red Dragonfly, Mangetti National Park

While we’re on the subject of flying things, how about a red dragonfly?

Cat tracks on top of our tire tracks from last night.

Cat tracks on top of our tire tracks from last night.

We didn’t see any cats, but we know they’re here. These tracks are on top of our car tracks, so something walked down the road after we’d driven it. We’re the only visitors here driving around.

Cat Tracks, Mangetti National Park

Cat tracks, I think.

They’re good-sized tracks.

Rhino track, Mangetti National Park.

Rhino track, Mangetti National Park.

We also saw tracks like this. We’ve never seen such tracks, nor had we read that this animal was here in the park. We asked. Yes, there are rhinos here.

We didn’t see any.