Clearly the most rewarding about Etosha is watching the fascinating animal behaviors at the waterholes, podcast.
The Etosha Pan is truly a most remarkable place where herds of wildlife gather at the waterholes, almost any time of day, or night. I could spend hours sitting and observing the wild animals and birds interact as they vie for water, the precious gift of life.
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Curious Animal Behaviors at the Waterholes in Etosha Pan
Two years ago Russ and I visited Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. for the first time. The variety of geysers, their eruptions and colors are indescribable, and you really have to be there to appreciate the wonder. Well, the Etosha Pan National Park in the northern part of Namibia in Africa is the same, you simply must experience it personally.
The Estosha Pan itself is a huge salt flat with a perimeter of sparse vegetation that is home to large herds of Elephant, Springbok, Gemsbok, Giraffe, Zebra, Kudu, Wildebeest, Impala and spectacular large birds like the Bateleur, Secretary Bird and Kori Bustard.
The place to find the animals and birds, especially at the end of the dry season, is of course at the waterholes. Unlike simply watching animals grazing or laying under a tree to get reprieve from the intense desert heat, at the waterholes you see curious animal behaviors, as same, and different species contend for their turn to drink.
“Why are they all waiting?”
A large herd of Gemsbok, behind them Zebra and to the right Springbok… wait. The waterhole seems to have no visitors, however, four reserve workers and their bakkie are about 50 meters away working on the pump. That must be why they’re waiting.
The animals get restless, in particular the Gemsbok as they begin chasing and challenging each other, locking their long straight horns with the dust enveloping them.
As we turn our attention to the Springbok, they seem to be looking, watching. Those workers can’t be that interesting! Then we see her, a Lioness moving nonchalantly making her way from the waterhole towards the nearby scrub bushes. She pays the Springbok no mind as they move away to let her through. They don’t panic or even run, she must be full!
Is she alone? No, with the binoculars we spot another lion in the bushes and later on watching our video we see at least two more.
With the Lioness in the bush the Gemsbok and Springbok herds move in, still cautious, ever watching they drink their fill. The Zebra are still hanging back.
“Who is the brave one?”
A herd of Zebra is nearing the waterhole. They stop and look. On the other side a herd of Kudu also stare towards the water, behind them even further away a small herd of Red Hartebeest also watch. An Ostrich, no not with his head in the sand, but resting on one leg also faces the same way.
Next to the waterhole, totally free of any species, not more than 12 meters away lies a Black Rhino. Besides moving his head periodically he lies still. A Zebra begins to move closer to the water, another follows. The first stops, the second keeps going, then stops. The first moves again. A third joins them while the rest of the herd waits and watches. The Rhino shifts his head, the leading Zebra jump back.
On the other side of the waterhole a Kudu mama moves in closer barking each time the Rhino budges even slightly. All stop and wait, and watch.
The first Zebra moves forward, the second and third follow. A repeat of the above stop and start occurs multiple times. Finally the first Zebra reaches the water, others follow giving the Rhino a wide birth. He doesn’t move and in short order a dozen Zebra are drinking. The Rhino moves, they all spook and jump away. He lays back down, they return to drink.
The Kudu decide to try it while the Hartebeest move out after the Zebra have spooked a few times. The Kudu mama still barks at the slightest movement. The Kudu appear more skittish than the Zebra, but finally about half of the small herd moves in to drink.
A ranger drives up, they are concerned about the Rhino because it is not normal for him to be lying for so long in the blistering sun. As the ranger vehicle moves down by the Rhino the herds pull back and watch, even the Ostrich moves further away.
The ranger tells us that it is an old Rhino and he is dying. I wonder what will happen to his magnificent set of horns! The Zebra and Kudu move back in to drink.
“Who gets to go first?”
It’s a small waterhole and a handful of Zebra and Impala are taking a drink. Then from behind us we hear them coming… clump, clump, clump. A large herd of dusty Elephants walking single file come right past our Land Rover heading straight for the waterhole. They keep their babies close. The Zebra and Impala give way. The line of Elephants keeps on coming, the waterhole is becoming very crowded, we hear the tummy rumbles as the Elephants vie for a place to drink. Amongst the commotion the big ones allow the little ones enough room to dip their small trunks in the water. Its amazing they aren’t crushed underfoot! Once they’ve all drunk their fill the splashing begins. Sucking up water with their trunks and spraying it across their backs. Then they simply hang out, swinging their trunks. A baby lies down. Mom nudges her with foot, then trunk until she gets up. The Zebra move off and a couple of Impala remain and wait their turn.
Unlike the Elephants the Gemsbok do not let the young ones go first.
Again, it’s a small waterhole Gemsbok are milling around. Four female Kudu also hover close to the edge. A lone Giraffe is at one end watching, waiting to bend his long legs to quench his thirst. The Gemsbok males duel it out. One takes off with the other in pursuit.
Then my attention turns to three youngsters standing on the periphery. They watch and wait for their elders to drink. As the numbers of adult Gemsbok reduces to four at the water the youngsters cautiously move in, only to be rebuffed. However, now they will not be discouraged and try over and over again, only to find themselves staring right at those lethal long pointed horns. Finally the second to last of the adults leave. The last, a female holds them at bay. Then, when she has obviously had her fill she allows one, then two, then all three access. After that, to our surprise she stands guard. As the Kudu or even a stray Gemsbok come closer she chases them off till the youngsters are done. Finally after all the Gemsbok retreat the Kudu move in and the Giraffe gets her drink.
“Look who’s taking a bath!”
It’s a marvelous somewhat larger waterhole with Zebra, Giraffe, Springbok and a Gemsbok or two drinking or close by. Then what’s that coming running across the dry pan? Why it’s a Hyena, now wait, there is another one close behind. Guess they have to drink too. As the first gets to the water she doesn’t stop to drink she plunges in, drops her behind, dunks her head and simply relishes the cooling liquid. The second does likewise. Then a third arrives, and this one must not be in good graces as the first leaves the water, obviously says something to the third who retreats.
Look whose coming running towards the waterhole now! It’s a Warthog and her baby. Mom sees the Hyena but doesn’t flinch, she rushes into the water with her baby behind. The closer Hyena just watches. Both Hyena continue languishing in the water when I notice that close to them curled up on the muddy bank is a Jackal.
“Can’t you leave me in peace?”
The Jackal doesn’t seem to mind the Hyena, not until another arrives and both the first Hyena and the Jackal move down the edge of the waterhole. They appear to be banished buddies, hanging close for protection from a common enemy. The Jackal curls up in the mud again and the Hyena stays in the water watching the other two.
When the Hyenas leave the Giraffe move over along the water’s edge. Again, the Jackal has to move. This time she trots over to the far end and lays down with her chin in the shallow water. A Springbok herd moves in from behind. The Jackal gets up and moves over as they crowd in. This time she remains standing as if wondering what to do. A small herd of Eland come in on the opposite side, the Zebra give way and the Jackal moves again, and probably glad she didn’t settle in to the cooling mud too soon. One last time she lays down, by now she has moved almost half way around the waterhole. When the lone Elephant comes in and all the animals shift around the Jackal calls it quits. She trots up to where we are, looks straight at me then moves off past us leaving a small trail of dust behind her as she makes her way across the dry pan. The next day on our return to the same waterhole, there she is curled up in her favorite muddy spot.
“A game of ‘catch me if you can’ maybe?”
While watching the Elephant herd we spot him taking a sand bath on the other side… a beautiful Secretary Bird. Impala are drinking in a mud puddle nearby as is a gorgeous Bateleur (probably one of my most favorite birds of prey.) The Secretary Bird stands up and moves along the waterhole, he picks up speed then we notice why. On the other side a second Secretary Bird is flying in. She runs as she touchs down… these big birds typically do that. The two are now running towards each other like impassioned lovers. Then, out of the blue, the second bird turns around and runs towards the scrub bush. A game of chase begins. Once in the scrub, when we’re about to lose them from sight, the second bird starts flapping her wings while increasing her speed, she takes off. The first bird, not to be left behind follows suit and we watch in awe as these two magnificent birds with huge wing spans dance in the air before disappearing out of view.
“Look whose finding refuge from the heat!”
There’s a lone Giraffe bull at the small waterhole with the only large tree for kilometers. He does his typical deep knee bends to reach the water. We watch him then move past the large tree.
I’m not sure if I was looking for a Leopard, but gazing up into the tree I see this smaller bird of prey. I ask Russ to stop. I grab the binoculars. There sitting on one limb shaded by another is a Kestrel with wings spread out and beak open. Periodically he closes his eyes, then opens them again, surveying the scene, scanning for prey. He is obviously very hot. Makes me wonder which would win out should he spot a tasty morsel, respite or hunger?
- The male Lion standoff
- Black Rhino being protective or territorial
- The lazy Lion and the Kudu bull
- Baby Elephant vs. the Kudu mamma
- The brave or stupid Impala
- Two ways to take a drink if you’re a Giraffe
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