Etosha National Park Etosha National Park

Etosha national park

From the first sight of those endless plains of short yellow grass, dotted with herds of wildlife, to the view across that white expanse of pan stretching beyond the horizon; from a quiet vigil at a bushland waterhole, witnessing a perpetual procession of animals, to an unhurried drive through enchanting mopane woodlands; from being delighted by two blue cranes and their vulnerable chick, to encountering a great herd of elephants up close … Etosha instils in us an awe of primordial nature.

Etosha is vastness and wildlife. It is a huge park: a hundred kilometres north to south, 300 east to west. The extreme flatness of the land just seems to expand the vastness beneath that infinite sky. And the sheer wildlife numbers are truly awesome – the herds of springbok, zebras and wildebeest out on the plains; the stately giraffe nibbling on tall acacias; the thirsty elephants, the kudus and impalas, the flocks of sandgrouse at the water… Meanwhile, the stalking predators create a constant, concealed suspense that reminds us of the natural cycle of life and death.

Today, Etosha’s abundance and diversity of wildlife may give the impression that this is how it always was: a pristine wildlife haven, preserved unchanged for eternity. Yet the park’s populations have a surprisingly turbulent past. As is the case for so many Namibian parks, the story of Etosha is a story of the return of wildlife. The populations of many species have had to be rebuilt from scratch. The park is a salute to successful conservation.

And it is a story of people and their environment. Hai||om hunter-gatherers, Ovambo salt caravans, Herero and Ovambo stock herders, European explorers and hunters, Dorsland Trekkers, the German Schutztruppe and their forts … and then the full spectrum of a century of nature conservation in Namibia. What marvellous, fascinating variety.


•    The park is open all year; the cool & sunny winter months afford the most comfortable travel
•    Wildlife viewing is best in the dry season, when game congregates in great numbers at waterholes
•    Birding is best in the rainy season; huge flocks of wetland birds are attracted by water in the pan
•    During the rainy season, young animals abound, but wildlife is more dispersed

•    Spend a day at one waterhole; experience all its moods & the full spectrum of its regulars
•    Take in the vastness of the pan at one of the viewpoints along its edge
•    Drive slowly along one of the woodland drives & revel in the suspense of potential sightings
•    Witness a sprinkling of night secrets at one of the floodlit resort waterholes

•    Park entrances & resort gates open daily from sunrise to sunset; no driving after sunset
•    It is strictly forbidden to get out of your vehicle or lean out of its windows in the park
•    Animals have right of way! Always drive with caution & never exceed the speed limit!
•    Etosha is in a malaria area; ensure the necessary precautions

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Dolomite Camp

Dolomite Camp

On a small hill on the extreme western side of Etosha - Dolomite is the newest (and fifth camp) to open within the park boundaries. It is a smaller lodge as opposed to the traditional resort feel of the other camps within the park.

Eagle Tented Camp

Eagle Tented Camp

Value for money accommodation in a well designed tented camp.

Etosha Safari Camp

Etosha Safari Camp

Taking on a legendary place and adding a whimsical-local flare – the Etosha Safari Camp embraces Shebeen Culture in everything it offers. Bright colours and humour form part of the language here. Indulge in the local music on offer every evening and embrace the shebeen-way of life. The whimsical character of the property extends into the chalets, with bright colours and quirky details. Located just ten kilometres from the Etosha National Park, guests can have close access to the wildlife within, as well as an authentically Namibian Cultural experience.

Etosha Safari Lodge

Etosha Safari Lodge

They say an elephant never forgets, neither will you Etosha is an experience of the heart and the soul as much as it is a unique natural wilderness. There is a rich depth to the region, and it can be experienced when seen through the eyes of the local people. Located just ten kilometres from the Anderrson Gate into the Etosha National Park, this lodge is the ideal location for a base. Along the crest of a Mopane Woodland Valley, the lodge and its viewing deck offer unparallel views of the area. Each room offers a private terrace for a personal experience. And guests can select one of three pools to cool off in after a long day of exploration in the National Park.



One of the five camps situated inside the park, generally less popular with visitors than Okaukuejo or Namutoni but has the advantage of a secluded quiet spot lit waterhole.

Hobatere Lodge

Hobatere Lodge

On the far western edge of the park, just outside the Galton Gate, this is an excellent location to explore Etosha, Damaraland and the remote Kaokoland area.

Little Ongava

Little Ongava

Luxury accommodation, each unit with private pool, great place to spoil yourself. Guided tours on private nature reserve and inside Etosha Park.

Olifantsrus Campsite

Olifantsrus Campsite

A brand new campsite inside Etosha Park. No accommodation is available here and this only caters for self-sufficient campers. A highlight of the camp is the unique hide which overlooks the camps waterhole.

Ongava Tented Camp

Ongava Tented Camp

On the same property as Ongava Lodge, but offering a more traditional tented safari style experience.

Toshari  Lodge

Toshari Lodge

Once called Etosha Gateway lodge this is a budget accommodation option which has recently been renovated.

Etosha Aoba Lodge

Etosha Aoba Lodge

Small mid-price lodge close to the park gate - situated of the private Fischer's pan reserve.

Etosha King Nehale

Etosha King Nehale

Just north of the King Nehale Gate into Etosha, this new property offers guests full access to the national park, as well as the opportunity to explore the north-central reaches of Namibia. The Etosha King Nehale serves as the gateway into a unique cultural adventure. Every detail of this property was refined and delicately implemented to reflect the essence of royalty and the charm of the OshiWambo culture. Each room stands as its own unit, with private plunge pool and unmatched views of the Andoni Plains. Beyond the plains, the property also offers access to a private waterhole in the National Park. Guests are invited to embrace their inner royalty.

O & L Mokuti Lodge

O & L Mokuti Lodge

Large lodge situated at the Namutoni entrance gate to Etosha. Excellent facilities but expect to share these with large group tours.

Mushara Bush Camp

Mushara Bush Camp

The latest edition to the Mushara Collection offers mid-range tented accommodation.

Mushara Lodge

Mushara Lodge

Good accommodation at a reasonable price, close to the park entrance.

Mushara Outpost

Mushara Outpost

Small intimate tented camp built on raised platforms, good for privacy and a 'luxury outdoor' feel.



Inside the park borders, built around Fort Namutoni. Recently upgraded to appeal to more 'up-market' visitors.

Onguma Bush Camp

Onguma Bush Camp

Newly renovated, good mid-market option for self-drive tourists.

Onguma The Fort

Onguma The Fort

Luxury lodge built around a fort on Fischer's Pan. Easy access to the park.

Villa Mushara

Villa Mushara

Very exclusive private suites, all mod-cons and luxuries.

Etosha Mountain Lodge - Natural Selection

Etosha Mountain Lodge - Natural Selection

Serene yetfull of character, the thatched chalets of Etosha Mountain Lodge are perched on a dolomite hill, offering panoramic views of the iconic namibian landscape with an abundance of big game and wildlife.

Etosha Safari Camping2Go

Etosha Safari Camping2Go

Combine an adventurous safari into Etosha National Park with a quiet barbeque evening at the campfire. Set atop a hill, the camping spots offer sweeping views over mopane forests. Each of the units is equipped to host four guests in comfortable beds, are en suite, and have fully functional kitchen ready for use. Exchange tranquillity for African beats when you go down to Oshebeena Bar offering live music in the evenings or lounge by the cool pool and sip a cocktail after a long day in the Etosha National Park. Combine the best of both worlds.

Etosha Village - Taleni Africa

Etosha Village - Taleni Africa

Situated only 2 km from the Andersson entrance gate to Etosha National Park, Etosha Village uniquely combines affordability with comfort, style and exquisite cuisine.

Etosha Oberland Lodge

Etosha Oberland Lodge

Etosha Oberland Lodge, at the southern entrance of EtoshaNational Park, combines luxury with a lot of privacy.

White-Faced Duck

The vocal white-faced duck feature in various inland waters.

Maccoa Duck

Maccoa ducks prefer permanent wetlands in open grasslands and semi-dry country.

Commerson's leaf-nosed bat

Commerson's leaf-nosed bat is the largest insectivorous bat in southern Africa.

Egyptian free-tailed bat

The French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire collected this species in Egypt during the Napoleonic wars.

Schlieffen's bat

Schlieffen's bat is one of the smallest bats in southern Africa.

Sundevall's leaf-nosed bat

The Sundevall's leaf-nosed bat has best been described as small and fragile.

Yellow house bat

Yellow house bats have bulldog type facial features and are slightly larger than the lesser yellow house bat.

South African shelduck

The South African shelduck prefer shallow, seasonal pans, dams, rivers and sewage works

Spur-Winged Goose

Spur-winged goose can be found with comb ducks and at times shelducks.

Comb Duck

Comb ducks prefer marsh and temporary pans in woodland, woodland-fringed lagoon of flood plains.

African Pygmy-Goose

The African Pygmy goose prefer a well-vegetated freshwater wetlands habitat.

Cape Teal

Cape teals are found in salt pans, estuaries and coastal lagoons.

Yellow-Billed Duck

Yellow-billed ducks prefer a habitat of open waters of estuaries, stillish waters of rivers, lakes, streams, marshes, swamps, dams and sewage works.

Cape Shoveller

The Cape shoveller was named after Sir Andrew Smith.

Northern Shoveller

Northern shovellers arrive in Namibia from late October and depart again around February and March.

Red-Billed Teal

Red-billed teals inhabit most inland wetlands whether man-made or natural usually in pairs or small groups.

Hottentot Teal

Hottentot teals are found in a permanent and semi-permanent shallow and freshwater wetlands.

African Palm-Swift

African palm-swifts inhabit semi-dry savannahs with scattered palms and in towns with native and alien fan palms.

Monteiro's Hornbill

Monteiro's hornbill is named after Joachim J Monteiro.

Damara Hornbill

Damara hornbills prefer Acacia woodlands in hilly areas with large trees, especially mopane.


A dry, open Acacia savannah and stands of low bushveld are the most common habitats for the yellow-billed hornbill.


Cheetah, the spotted cat that does not retract its claws


Lions love to wander, hunt, sleep, patrol and play. 

The Hai||om have a legend about Etosha being the lake of a grieving mother’s tears. The devastating history of these people over the last two centuries makes the link between grief and Etosha a poignant one. Yet there is reconciliation. Johannes Kapner is one of a number of modern Hai||om bridging the negative past with a positive future in Etosha. Johannes is amongst MET’s most experienced field staff. Whenever practical skills, bush knowledge and courage are needed, Johannes is there. He is based in Etosha, but has worked across much of Namibia on game translocations, rhino conservation and more.

The bounty of the Etosha environment has attracted the attention of people for probably hundreds of thousands of years. Without clear oral histories and lacking definitive pre-colonial or even early colonial records, attempts to disentangle and categorise the historic ethnicities of Khoesan hunter-gatherers in southwestern Africa have been relatively unsuccessful. Yet it’s likely that the direct ancestors of the Hai||om inhabited much of the Central Highlands of Namibia and parts of the Cuvelai Basin for at least a thousand years.

Unlike other San, the Hai||om speak a language of the Khoekhoegowab group, which has caused much speculation about their origins. Amongst many labels, they’ve been called an ‘ethnographic anomaly’. More than other San even, the Hai||om have been exposed to marginalisation, oppression, dispossession and active extermination. The history of Etosha is infused with their story. Many lived traditional lives in the park until they were evicted in 1954. Close to 400 still live in Etosha’s staff quarters today.

The Ovambo (also known as Ambó) arrived in the Cuvelai in the early 1500s during the broad Bantu expansion across southern Africa. As croppers and herders, they found this an ideal place to settle and spread out across the basin. Relatively fertile soils and permanent water from shallow wells, abundant indigenous fruit trees and wildlife, and the annual flow of the iishana that offers prolific fish catches enabled a higher population density than most parts of southern Africa. The people planted crops and grazed their livestock on vast grasslands. They hunted, and they harvested salt from the saline pans. They blossomed into eight closely related dynasties, with the Kwanyama and Ndonga being the largest. Together, they became the most powerful and numerous people in the area. Less than 100,000 in the 1800s have multiplied to a population of over one million today.

Herero pastoralists arrived in the region at a similar time to the Ovambo. While the majority subsequently settled across the Central Highlands, some remained in the northwest and have utilised the western fringes of the Ovambo Basin and parts of what is today Etosha National Park for centuries.

Life in the Ovambo Basin was not always tranquil. The slave trade had a significant impact on the people, reaching a peak in the 1800s. Slavery was officially abolished in 1875, but was for several decades replaced by a system of forced labour in Angola. Development of the German colony of South West Africa led to an increasing demand for labour on mines here and the establishment of a migrant labour system. Over time, this involved about three quarters of all Ovambo men. Labour export remains an entrenched practice – many people still leave the Cuvelai today to seek employment elsewhere.

The first European known to have traversed parts of the Cuvelai was Andrew Battels, an English prisoner sent to Angola by the Portuguese. He escaped and fled south in 1589, and lived with the Ovambo for 16 months. His account, published in 1595, was the first description of the interior of this part of southern Africa.

European explorers only reached the area over a century later – the Swede Karl Johan Andersson and the Brit Francis Galton were the first to survey parts of Etosha Pan in 1851. The western and southern entrance gates are named after them. Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, was an industrious explorer and scientist, who later devised human fingerprint identification.
Etosha served as a stop-over for the Dorsland Trekkers on their epic journey to and from Angola. They settled in the Etosha area twice, between 1876 and ‘79 and again from 1885 to ‘87, and were based at Namutoni and Rietfontein.

The first colonial infrastructure was established in the vicinity of Etosha Pan a decade after the proclamation of the German colony. When rinderpest broke out in 1896, Okaukuejo and Namutoni were set up as livestock control posts to stem the spread of the disease, which caused massive losses of wildlife and livestock across southern Africa.

Okaukuejo and Namutoni were turned into fortified military posts in 1901 and ‘03 respectively. The military presence was not welcomed; the Ondonga King Nehale ya Mpingana ordered an attack on Namutoni in 1904. The first onslaught was warded off, but the Germans fled and the fort was destroyed. A stronger fort was built in 1905, which is today a tourist attraction. The northern park gate is named after King Nehale.

During World War I, the British considered the Kwanyama King Mandume ya Ndemufayo, who had been involved in clashes with the Portuguese in Angola, ‘uncooperative’. A military offensive was dispatched and the king was killed in battle in 1917. Mandume was the first and most prominent of several Ovambo leaders killed during the periods of British and South African rule.

The Oshivambo word etotha, which evolved into today’s Etosha through European use, is interpreted as ‘place where no plants grow’. The spelling Etotha can still be found in early literature. Other interpretations include ‘great white place’, ‘place of emptiness’ and ‘bare place’.

Etosha without elephants, without rhinos or lions seems unimaginable. Etosha has been famous for its great herds of game ever since the first explorers described them to the world more than 160 years ago, yet it’s seen dramatic population declines and the local extinction of numerous of species. While many of these have returned over the last half century or so, others have experienced more recent declines. Such fluctuations – including current rhino poaching impacts – dramatically illustrate human influence everywhere, even on a place as immense as Etosha.

Etosha has undergone many transformations. Its colonial conservation history in a sense began when German soldiers were stationed at the newly built Okaukuejo outpost from 1896, and tasked with ‘controlling hunting’ (and ensuring ‘law and order’) along the Ovamboland frontier. When the game reserve was created a decade later, no elephants were found in the vicinity of Etosha Pan.

In the half-century between the first expedition to Etosha by Europeans and the park’s proclamation, wildlife had been decimated. The great pachyderms, and their smaller counterparts, the rhinos, had been shot to local extinction. The ivory trade – and wanton shooting of wildlife – had wreaked havoc. During the 1860s, the Ndonga King alone is reported to have collected around two tonnes of ivory per year. The last elephants were apparently shot near Namutoni in 1881. White rhino became extinct in the entire colony around the turn of the century. Black rhinos were reduced to isolated populations in inaccessible parts, and a few small herds of elephant were left in the most remote northwestern and northeastern corners of the territory. It took elephants seven decades to return to Etosha. Fifty to 60 were estimated in 1952; today, there are around 3,000. Lions were also rare or absent for years. The resident ranger reported the first roar of a lion at Namutoni in 1912.

The earliest systematic survey of wildlife, done in 1926, recorded no roan or black-faced impala, no rhino and no elephant in Etosha. Interestingly, the survey did show oribi and bushpig in the park, and hippo, buffalo, reedbuck, roan and black rhino in small numbers in Ovambo. The survey revealed significant wildlife numbers and diversity north of the park, very little of which is left today.

The return of wildlife to Etosha is a story of mixed fortunes. White rhinos have increased steadily after a series of reintroductions of animals from South Africa, starting in the mid-1990s. More than 50 black rhinos were relocated to Etosha from northwestern Namibia between the late 1960s and late ‘70s. After independence, the growth of this population allowed translocations of black rhino from the park to many parts of Namibia, as well as to other southern African countries. Black-faced impala were brought to Etosha from a dwindling population in Kaoko, and have thrived, dispersing across the park. In an action that made game-capture history, 74 roan were airlifted from the Khaudum area to Etosha in 1970, but this vulnerable antelope did not manage to re-establish a viable population. Attempted reintroductions of wild dog and sable were also unsuccessful. The oribi has not just disappeared from Etosha, but is currently considered extinct in Namibia.

Managing wildlife populations in confined areas is often a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, the conservation of vulnerable and threatened species can be problematic. On the other hand, overpopulation, especially of potentially destructive species such as elephant, may have a devastating impact on vegetation and other wildlife. In 1983, the decision was taken to cull more than 500 elephant, as well as springbok and gemsbok in Etosha. An abattoir was built at Olifantsrus (‘elephants’ rest’) to process the carcasses, giving the name of the waterhole a macabre new meaning. Culling is very controversial, and other options are generally preferred. No culling of elephant has been carried out in Namibia since independence.

When Wild-Reservat 2 was created in 1907, it extended from Etosha Pan to the coast and the Kunene River, covering about 80,000 square kilometres, which made it the world’s largest game reserve at the time. Numerous communities lived in the reserve, especially in the northwest. The subsequent size reductions were an outcome of national development. The three initial reserves created by the German administration actually appeared to serve partly as buffer zones to perceived threats (Ovamboland and the British enclave at Walvis Bay) in addition to being conservation units.

In 1947, the northwestern corner between the coast and the Kunene became the Kaokoveld Native Reserve, although the game reserve status of the area was not immediately revoked. This happened in 1958, when the reserve became Etosha Game Park, with a much narrower band now reaching the coast between the Hoarusib and Koigab rivers. In 1963, the Odendaal Commission recommended the creation of Damaraland adjacent to Kaokoveld, thus reducing the park to more or less its present size (implemented in 1970). Its status was upgraded to Etosha National Park in 1967, and the current boundary was gazetted in 1975. The establishment of the Etosha Research Section in 1965 (which became the Etosha Ecological Institute in 1974) was an important milestone that cemented the role of research in conservation and the management of protected areas in the country.

By 1955, all land to the south and east of Etosha was freehold farmland, and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 1961 triggered the construction of a fence along these park boundaries. By 1973 Etosha was completely fenced. This had a huge impact on migrating wildlife. The populations of blue wildebeest and Burchell’s plains zebra were reduced by 90 and 80 per cent, respectively. The fence also stopped the seasonal migration of thousands of eland from the Kalahari sandveld to the east.

A group of researchers, assistants and hangers-on gathers around a tranquillised lion, to work and prod and stare in awe. It’s 2016. I’m taking photos, but think of a picture of Hu Berry, working alone on an immobilised lion in the 1980s – with the animal’s eyes wide open, glaring at the viewer. Hu’s early work on lions in Etosha included a project to investigate the effectiveness of putting lionesses ‘on the pill’ to control population growth. Groundbreaking stuff. Hu was Etosha’s biologist. He was also a prolific researcher, who published scores of scientific and popular articles on the park.

Etosha offers boundless research topics. The list of scientific investigations carried out here is long and diverse. Obviously most focus is on wildlife – from elephants to biting flies, and from giraffes to flamingos. Other fields are equally fascinating, spanning most of the earth sciences, and describe facets such as the evolution of Etosha Pan, its palaeo-ecological value, and the influence of its dust emissions on climate. Many studies are done by scientists from around the world. Unfortunately not all results are accessible to Namibians.
The work on lion reproduction in Etosha certainly stands out. Putting Etosha’s lionesses on long-acting contraceptives was controversial, but at a time when the standard management tool to overpopulation was culling, it was also groundbreaking. Research on 13 lionesses from five prides showed that the animals did not conceive, that the contraceptive effects were fully reversible and did not significantly influence the lionesses’ behaviour.

Elephant communication at low frequencies inaudible to humans was first discovered in the 1980s. Since then, numerous scientists have studied the phenomenon in Etosha. These ‘infrasounds’ are audible to elephants at 10 kilometres or more. Because the sound is distributed in all directions, it can cover an area of 300 square kilometres. The communications are most effective at night, when atmospheric conditions are best.

Important work is being done on anthrax, a contributing factor to the population crashes of herbivores when Etosha was fenced. The bacterial disease is present in water and soil, and is ingested by grazing animals. It is most widespread in the wet season and may cause over 50 per cent of observed mortalities in plains zebra and wildebeest, and 40 per cent in elephant. These species are most heavily affected, although anthrax has been recorded in most large herbivores in Etosha.

The international rhino poaching crisis is the most high profile of many current conservation challenges facing Etosha. It has potentially devastating effects on one of Namibia’s great conservation success stories – the black rhino. Pierre du Preez has been at the forefront of Namibian rhino conservation for decades. He was Chief Conservation Scientist and Rhino Coordinator for MET for over 10 years, and has led innovative approaches to managing Namibia’s rhino population. When poaching in Etosha began to escalate, Pierre’s experience led to his transfer to the park as Deputy Director in 2016.

Rhinos present a bizarre conservation history. During the European colonisation of Africa, they were wantonly shot for ‘sport’, pushing the white rhino to the brink of extinction, with black rhino surviving only in remote areas. Once conservation gained hold, populations recovered. Then poaching for rhino horn became a huge threat in the 1960s. Over 95 per cent of the 100,000 black rhinos estimated in Africa in 1960 had been annihilated by the 1990s, when viable numbers remained in only a few countries. Namibia, by contrast, has been extremely effective in rebuilding populations of both African rhino species over the last half-century.

Etosha experienced its first rhino poaching crisis in the years leading up to independence, when the disarray caused by South Africa’s military campaign to block Namibian independence created ideal poaching grounds. More than a dozen black rhinos were poached in Etosha in 1984 and over two dozen in a second wave between 1989 and 1991. Drastic action was taken to de-horn many Namibian rhinos and to shift the most vulnerable animals to more secure locations. The main poaching syndicates were caught and prosecuted. For the next two decades, less than 10 rhinos were poached in the country.

In 2009, poaching returned – more sophisticated, more ruthless. Etosha was the main target, although incidents were recorded elsewhere. Less than a dozen rhinos were poached in the first five years, but the toll rose steeply. 2015 was the worst year, with more than 80 rhinos poached in Etosha. Losses have been curbed appreciably since then. Less than 30 rhinos a year were poached in the park in 2017 and 2018. A significant police and military presence was deployed to combat the poaching, and intelligence-led investigations by the Protected Resources Division are now apprehending criminals before they poach. The fight is ongoing.

Etosha provides protected habitat for a great number of vulnerable species other than rhino. It is home to the most important lion population in Namibia, another of Africa’s large mammals in drastic decline. Etosha’s lions reached a high of over 500 in the 1970s, but numbers dropped to less than half that by 1990. Shooting of lions by farmers outside the park has caused considerable losses, reaching 79 animals in 1982 (the border fence is not entirely lion-proof). This has decreased considerably, but can still be 20 or more a year. Because lion populations are able to recover quickly under good conditions, scientists have argued that droughts and prey availability are a bigger factor in regulating population growth than mortalities along park borders. Etosha’s lions have now recovered to between 400 and 500 individuals.

The black-faced impala is a subspecies endemic to northwestern Namibia and southeastern Angola, with most of the population in Etosha. The animals are prospering in the park, which has allowed herds to be re-established in former ranges in community conservation areas and other localities.

Etosha Pan is Namibia’s largest inland wetland, and a vital refuge for many bird species. It provides particularly important habitat for cranes. In Namibia, blue cranes and grey crowned cranes are both critically endangered, having been reduced to less than 40 and less than 50 birds, respectively. Wattled cranes are doing marginally better at 250 birds. Etosha is similarly important for flamingos. The pan is one of only four known breeding sites for lesser flamingos in Africa. In southern Africa, Etosha Pan and the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana are the only two regular, successful breeding sites for greater flamingos. Outside the breeding season, Etosha and Walvis Bay regularly support more than half of the southern African population of this species. The pan is a designated Ramsar Site.

Etosha is completely fenced – a fence of about 850 kilometres, battered regularly by elephants, dug up by burrowing creatures, eaten at by rain, rust and saline soils. The costs of construction were astronomical; maintenance is a nightmare. Epic wildlife migrations are cut off. The dispersal of surplus animals is prevented. More than elsewhere, it feels wrong to have a fence here, across the artery of a pulsating wonderland. A fence around a system as dynamic and magical as Etosha is like a lion in a cage. But that’s the view of the idealistic naturalist. The farmer sees it differently …

Ever since Game Reserve 2 was proclaimed, the northwest of Namibia has been seen as the natural extension of Etosha. Yet that is not the true ecological unit. The northwest is a wildlife dispersal area. The Cuvelai is the lost homeland. It is the provenance of Etosha Pan. Although some still lament the ‘loss’ of the Kunene section of the park, the true conservation dilemma is that only the Cuvelai’s end point, but none of its upstream drainage is formally protected – nor ever likely to become so.

The Cuvelai is one of Namibia’s most valuable – and most degraded – ecosystems. It’s the most densely populated part of Namibia, and has been so for centuries. It’s almost completely deforested, badly overstocked with goats, cattle and donkeys, and badly polluted in many parts. From a political perspective, it’s easy to understand that a nature park has never been considered here. Although we live in an age where conservation priorities should override politics, land ownership in Namibia is a highly contentious issue that leaves little room for objective debate around ideal land uses.

The community conservation areas bordering the park to the west and north serve an important conservation function, although this is hobbled by Etosha’s border fence. When the conservancies were formed, there was hope that portions of the fence might come down to re-establish migrations and revitalise the larger ecosystem. In reality the pressure of needing to address human–wildlife conflict had the opposite effect: the MET decided that all boundary fences should be fortified. Conflicts with wildlife remain an issue along some of the park’s borders, although many freehold farms in the south and east have switched to conservation and tourism.

The Hai||om have received half a dozen farms along the southern border and one near Oshivelo in the east as part of a government resettlement scheme. The !Gobaub Community Association was formed in 2012 to manage the area (with a similar structure to a conservancy). The initiative has shown limited success thus far. Most Hai||om living in Etosha prefer to remain there. In recognition of historic land rights, a number of tourism concessions were awarded to neighbouring conservancies to generate benefits for the communities. This includes the !Gobaub Concession for the Hai||om.

Public awareness is one of the keys to a sound conservation future. The Namutoni Environmental Education Centre at the Von Lindequist Gate pursues this vision, with a focus on catering for children from schools north of the park.


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