Etosha is regarded as one of the world’s great game parks and is Namibia’s prime tourist attractions. It is the home of several rare and endangered species of game, including the largest population of black rhino as well as thousands of antelope.
Long before people started roaming across the ancient landscapes, dinosaurs left their footprints in the mud of what used to be an enormous lake. Evidence of these prehistoric reptiles can be seen northeast of Omaruru, while the fossilized remains of a pre-human hominid dating back some 13 million years were discovered in the Otavi Mountains. In more recent historical times the last of the Stone Age hunter-gatherers, the San, adorned the walls of the overhangs in the Erongo Mountains with delicate rock paintings.
Centred on the vast Etosha Pan with its shimmering mirages, the renowned Etosha National Park is one of the world’s greatest conservation areas. It is a sanctuary to large herds of animals typical of the African plains and entices tourists hoping to spot four of the Big 5 - lion, elephant, leopard and rhino.
After the summer rains thousands of waterbirds are attracted to the seasonally inundated pans. The attraction of Etosha is not its diversity of species or large numbers of game, but the relatively ease with which a variety of game can be seen, especially during the dry winter months. During the rain season, however, the animals are commonly seen in the vicinity of the water holes. Etosha’s lion are often seen near water holes, especially during the dry winter months. Cheetah and leopard are less frequently spotted and elephant are commonly sighted, but their numbers fluctuate considerably as many migrate out of the park during the wet season. Giraffe are plentiful, while black-backed jackal and spotted hyena are animals to look out for.
Etosha, meaning ‘Great White Place’, is dominated by a massive mineral pan, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. This pan, the Etosha Pan also forms part of the Kalahari Basin.
Etosha Game Park was declared a National Park in 1907. The park, dominated by a massive mineral pan called the Etosha Pan, covers an area of 22 270 square kilometers and is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish.
The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up leaving a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds spectacular to behold.
The game viewing in Etosha is excellent, the best time for visiting being the cooler months from May to September. Visitors to the Etosha Area can expect to see elephant, giraffe, rhino, lion and many buck species. Some of the more fortunate visitors will see leopard and cheetah.
There are many private lodges and hotels around Etosha Park in the Etosha Area, many of these offering private game drives either on their own game reserves or into the Etosha Game Reserve itself.