The Daily Dozen: Mangetti National Park

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.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel