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Wild Animals Galore:
touring the wild animal parks in Namibia

by June Rendle

June is an actress, golfer, widow, living in Spain, Marbella. She has an interview published in this month's Essential magazine.

To see hundreds of animals in the wild, the most exciting place in the world is Etosha, in Namibia.We enjoyed seven wonderful days of finding and watching multitudes of animals and birds in natural, unspoiled, surroundings.

We flew from Cape Town into Windhoek and hired a Toyota Condor which could seat 8, so there was plenty of space for 3 of us with our luggage and camping equipment, as well as being high up which was excellent for game viewing. It was a 2-wheel drive, but perfectly adequate for driving in Namibia, as the main roads are all tarmac, and off these the gravel roads are well kept.

Our first stop was in Okahanjato see all the woodcarvings. Fifty or more shacks are selling the usual range of elephants, rhinos, tall giraffes, and much more, at a fraction of souvenir shop prices, and it is fascinating to see the carvings in all stages of preparation, from cutting up the huge trunks of trees, to the whittling down and creation of animals.

On the road north we were amused to see a tribe of baboons cavorting and eating from the table at a picnic area, and almost at the entrance to the camp a Kudu jumped over the fence and across the road in front of us – it looked exactly like the warning picture on the road signs.

The gravel road to the camp of Okanjima is 26kms. off the main road, and on the way we spotted 3 white rhinos. The male was huge, a magnificent animal.  We stopped the car and watched them as they sauntered away into the bush, and we were delighted to be told by the guides at the camp when we arrived that they are very rare. In fact the guides had not seen one in their 8 years of working at the camp.

Okanjima is a beautiful camp, with their rondavels completely open to the bush on one side, and fitted out tastefully with great facilities. Our first game drive at 4.30p.m. was led by a Zimbabwean named Dean into the 4000 hectare electrified compound, to radio-track 3 leopards they have under observation.  It was not as easy as you might think, as one had taken to the hills, another was AWOL, and the third, a young female named MJ, was hiding in the lushest bush she could find.   During the hunt we came across Kudu, Eland, Oryx, Ground Squirrels, and many lovely birds.  We had more or less given up on MJ as we pushed deeper and deeper into the undergrowth, despite receiving a strong radio signal from her collar, but just before sunset she was spotted at last, hiding, beautifully camouflaged, under a bush. Dean turned off the engine and we sat quietly, drinking in the astonishing sight before us.

The morning game drive at 6.30 was to visit the Africat Foundation to see the Cheetahs which they try to capture and return to the wild, but when this is not possible they provide a home for them.   One of their projects is to educate the farmers into bringing the cheetahs to the foundation instead of shooting them as pests. Nine cheetahs (all known by name to the guide) came running along the road from the wilderness to the Landover to be fed their morning snack; a wonderful photo opportunity seeing these amazing wild creatures up close.

A 250km. drive north took us into Etosha National Park, where Giraffe immediately greeted us at the gate. Our accommodation for the next 2 nights was at a Government Camp inside the park, Okankuejo, in a basic but pleasant rondavel less than 20 metres from the viewing area for the floodlit watering hole. Throughout the day this was visited by herds of zebra, wildebeest and springbok that would nervously edge towards the water for a quick drink and then wander off across the veld, giving way to the next batch of animals.

Our daily routine at the camps was to rise at dawn and drive into the park as the gates opened, going slowly along the excellent roads to watch as the animals appeared. Immediately through the gate at Okanjuego we found the pride of lions that had kept us awake with their roars during the night, and we were impressed as we saw hundreds of zebra trekking from the east, a panorama of black and white as far as the eye could see, the saltpan shimmering in the distance.

Wildlife highlights at Okanjuego included black and white rhino, ostrich, steenbok and hartebeest, and a large gathering of vultures surrounding a kill. At the waterhole a black rhino and a lioness had a showdown; the lioness retreated.   A huge monitor lizard slid by our rondavel, and the ground squirrels came to eat out of our hands at the braai.

The camp at Halali, 80 kms. East, is set in a heavily wooded area of the park, which makes game viewing a challenge at the end of the rainy season, though the open veld which borders the Pan was not far away, and that became our game drive of choice. We were thrilled to spot a Cheetah with 2 cubs stalking a Springbok – which was warned of her approach by an Oryx. We had several views of Lions and Lionesses with the Lions allowing the Lionesses to do all the work while they yawned and slept; there were many Giraffe, so beautiful as they splay their legs and stretch their long necks to drink, but the longed-for Elephants were only seen on the horizon, many miles away, in a long line heading north across the Pan.

A further 80kms. East we arrived at Namutoni, an incredible ‘Beau Geste’ Fort, and finally we found the Elephants. We quickly spotted 2 males head-butting while the females with calves stood nearby. We were alone on the roads except for the occasional animal crossing over – one huge male elephant scared us with a mock attack.   A lion and lioness mated within 5 metres of our car, Jackals, Mongooses, and Warthogs were in the camp, and the trees were alive with Lilac Breasted Roller Birds.

Our ‘closest encounter’ was during the first night at Namutoni. At 5a.m. John yelled out with pain and horror to find a 10cm striped ‘snake’ curled up on his big toe with its fangs firmly embedded in his foot. It was knocked off and captured in a toilet-brush holder for examination the next day, in case anti-venom treatment was necessary.

After the morning game drive, his foot having neither exploded or seized up, the authorities were summoned who identified the creature as an Umbaleke, a nasty fast moving centipede with a very painful but thankfully non-poisonous bite. The foot was doused in antiseptic, and the creature dispatched with a large heavy black foot squashing it into the ground.  

During our last night at Numutoni the whole of northern Namibia experienced a power cut, due to a fantastic tropical storm, which made packing up to leave at dawn by the light of candles something of a challenge.   However, we were waiting at the gate at 7a.m. for the 450km. drive to Gross Barmen hot springs, our last port of call before leaving Namibia. Our exciting adventure was almost at an end, and it has provided us with memories that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.


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