Monday, May 4, 2009

Namibia Holiday: Mammals

May 09

Big mammals are what everyone thinks of when they hear the words “African safari” – lions, elephants, leopards etc. Due to the uncharacteristically wet weather this year , the “big 5” pretty much eluded us. The reality was long days of driving, peering into thick bushes & long grass, desperately trying to spot animals, often fruitlessly, but then we’d go around a corner & there would be some magnificent animal standing right there on the side of the road, making the effort more than worthwhile.

On our first morning in Etosha we’d been driving for about an hour (along pretty wet and muddy roads) when our first “close encounter” happened. We were heading for the toilet (areas in the park that are fenced off so it is safe to get out of the car to use the facilities), and just 10 metres from the entrance to the toilet, we rounded a corner & there was a leopard in the middle of the road! You have no idea how exciting spotting a big cat so close is. We both grabbed our cameras & tried to get photos as “proof” (with the car stopped in the middle of the road). The cat didn’t stick around for long – he continued to cross the road (& this is the creepy part) he walked into the grass at the side of the road & within 20 seconds had completely disappeared from sight. We knew it was there, but no matter how hard we looked – we moved the car to get closer – we never saw it again. It made us realise just why you are never supposed to get out of the car in the park – you just don’t know what is lurking in the undergrowth. By the time we got to the toilet, several other cars had arrived there as well – everyone was so jealous we’d seen a leopard.

A similar thing happened on the next morning – we’d gone to check out a waterhole (no animals as usual) and were on our way out (same road as the entrance) and as we came around a corner, there was another leopard in the middle of the road – but this one didn’t move away, instead, after watching us carefully, it proceeded to sit and drink leisurely from a big puddle in the middle of the road. We were able to get great photos – it kept a close eye on us, but once it finished drinking, it sauntered off into the long grass – with its tail held high, it’s black & white tip was the last thing we saw of it just 4 – 5 metres from the side of the road.

So by now we think we have “early morning cat luck” and on our last morning in the park we were driving along the main road next to the Etosha plain, when out the side window I spotted a big male lion striding along the grass. Once more there was no one else around – we had the lion to ourselves. We could hear him “talking” (not as loud as a roar), but couldn’t see any other lions around. So, as far as the big carnivores go, we think close encounters with 2 leopards and a lion all to ourselves is pretty good. We were delighted with the photos we got.

The only other big carnivore we saw was a spotted hyena – similar story, came around a corner & it was standing in the middle of the road, but this was at the end of the day rather than in the morning. We actually saw the same one (we assume) twice, within 15 – 20 minutes.

The other reasonably big carnivore we saw lots of, were the black-backed jackals. We first saw one close to the seal colony, but later saw many more in Etosha. Actually, they are very cheeky and were walking around the restaurant at night trying to steal scraps of food! Despite how ubiquitous they turned out to be, we saw several playing in the wild & got some really nice photos of them.

The seals are the other big carnivores we saw, but as I said before, we found the colony noisy and stinky and the weather too cold for us to hang around for long. And with so many of them just sitting there, there wasn’t much excitement (no thrill of the hunt).

Apart from the carnivores, I guess most peoples image of the African plains are the herbivores – antelope and zebra and giraffes. These we saw plenty of! Just no elephants or rhinos. The rarest antelope we saw was a roan antelope (very briefly) at Waterburg.

Springbok we saw everywhere, and in the Eastern side of Etosha we saw lots of black faced impala also. We also saw lots of wildebeest and a few hartebeest. We also saw some small antelope (Steenbok and Damara dik-dik) – definitely close encounters on the side of the road as they were well hidden by the tall grass.

We saw large herds of zebra, but one day we came across a whole lot just standing (on the road) but with them all resting their heads on each others backs. Very strange!

We also had lots of close encounters with giraffes – we first saw a parent & baby on our first days driving out of Windhoek. When we were at Waterburg, we were in hides to watch the waterholes and salt licks & we had our packed breakfast watching a group of giraffes at a waterhole. Nothing looks more awkward than a giraffe trying to drink out of a pool in the ground! Even the baby ones look awkward, and they are much closer to the ground.

At the other end of the size scale were several delightful small mammals that we saw along the way. The banded mongooses we watched trying to cross the road without losing any of their babies along the way (so they stuck to each other like glue). The animals that were the most fun to watch were the ground squirrels which act more like a meerkat than a typical squirrel (except maybe for the squirrel in London that punched Bill in the nose last year). But they have no traffic sense at all and we even saw one family with its burrow in the road!

We also saw a couple of young suricates (these are also called meerkats) and some rock hyrax.

So, despite the weather, we really did see a lot of African mammals, and we got some great photos too. We can’t wait until we can go back & see how our luck runs next time.


Miss Footloose said...

What fun to read your Namibia story! I lived in Kenya years ago (married my Peace Corps volunteer husband there) and went on safari with some other volunteers. We had a close encounter with a huge elephant. One of the volunteers got out of the car, moved even closer and took a picture, then got back in the car where all of us were having heart attacks! Later she found out she'd forgotten to take the cap of her camera lens . . .

Good luck in Luanda!

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