Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lions and Elephants and Giraffes, Oh My!

Game parks in all the countries we’ve been to so far consist of self-guided drives in your own vehicle on designated roads that often go to water holes and/or you can pay for a safari.  Now that we have Good Sport, our trusty two-wheel drive Renault Sandero, we opted for the cheaper self-guided tour of Etosha National Park and had one of the best times ever, since we didn’t get trampled by elephants or eaten by lions.  You’d think it’s so easy to just drive around all day and stop at water holes to look for animals but there is an odd stress involved in trying to sight the animals and trying to avoid pot holes, and just like with any sort of travel, even though you just sit there it is an utterly exhausting experience.  The roads were actually in good condition considering all the rain Namibia had earlier this year, nothing like the washboard hell of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa.

Game viewing is largely boring because you spend a lot of time just looking for animals.  While we certainly had many of those moments in Etosha, we had lots of incredible animal viewing to make up for it.   Up until now I had barely seen a giraffe and was being to wonder if they were an incredible hoax that I’ve fallen for all these years.  Not to worry, that conspiracy theory has been proved false.  The best thing about giraffes is watching them drink. There were also lots of elephants, zebras, springbok, wildebeest, and many other animals to keep us constantly taking pictures.

Yes Virginia, there really are giraffes. (Anne doesn't think anyone will get this Miracle on 34th Street reference but my money is on my family to get it.)


Lunchtime - the thorns on these trees, even after being digested and excreted by an elephant, are still strong enough to puncture a tire.
One problem for me in particular while on these game drives is the lack of available toilets.  While they are randomly placed throughout the park, sometimes they are not always there when needed, and the cardinal rule while game viewing in places with lions and rhinos is to never leave your vehicle.  We had a free map showing the roads, water holes, and bathrooms from a tourist information stand which was good because we didn’t get one upon entering the park.  I really had to pee at one point so we headed for the nearest bathroom on our map.  When we got there, no bathroom was in sight.  It was a long drive back to the campground and really, what are the odds that an animal will actually attack you in that short a time, so logically Anne said, “well, you could just get out of the – are those lions?”  The answer to this rhetorical question was yes, those were lions.  Right when I really needed to pee.  Two lionesses just happened to be walking through the area, so we gawked and took some photos, and then they walked out of eye sight, and then I still had the bathroom dilemma.  The good news is that I was not attacked by lions while squatting next to the car.

Scene of bathroom dilemma.
Inside the park there are one or two main roads with many side roads leading to water holes.  While we had four days in the park, time is still of the essence and we couldn’t go to every one of them.  Sometimes it’s more of a whim, “want to go to this one?” “Sure” or “it’s kind of far and that road doesn’t look good.”  Our last day in the park one of the water holes ended up being a “sure”.  Luckily.  We were about two kilometers into the five kilometer drive when we stopped to watch a giraffe eating very close to the road. We were there for about five minutes when out of nowhere we heard this deafening trumpeting sound from behind.  I looked in the rear view mirror as a herd of elephants was approaching us from behind, so I quickly turned on the car and drove forward a kilometer or so where we again stopped to watch another giraffe eating.  We saw what appeared to be six or seven giraffes in the distance conveniently located where the road ahead curved, so we prepared to move forward just as a truck passed us.  We followed the truck a few hundred meters around the curve until it had to stop because a huge bull elephant was walking down the road.  The truck waited a few minutes and then in a surprisingly brazen move, decided to try to pass the elephant slowly.  It crept up next to the bull as Anne and I commented on what an idiot he was, when suddenly it turned towards the truck with a trumpeting noise for a show down.  At least there were a few seconds we thought there was going to be a show down, and there would have been no question whatsoever who the winner would be.  Luckily for the truck and its five occupants (three of whom were children – seriously), the elephant didn’t charge but turned back after this warning and kept strolling down the road.  

Here we sat for about ten minutes all the while waiting for this bull to saunter on, hoping the group of giraffes wouldn’t leave first, and before the herd of elephants behind us caught up.  It was quite intimidating to realize that we were actually quite trapped.  The vegetation was too thick to get off the road more than a few feet and we were boxed in by elephants, one of whom already wasn’t in the mood for cars.  

The giraffes we didn't want to miss waiting for the bull to move on.
After a few minutes the bull quietly moved into the woods followed by seven giraffes before the herd behind us caught up.  Relieved, we decided to move on to the water hole to await their hopeful arrival.  In less than 10 minutes the herd of about 13 elephants showed up.  The point where we were situated had the water hole directly in front of us, the road behind us, and the herd’s entrance point was through the woods on our right.  It was amazing watching them walk out of the woods, one after the other, and getting to see how big the bulls were and how small the babies were, and guess at the ages of those in between.  Baby elephants really are the most adorable creatures in the world.  They just look so miniature with their tiny trunks and playful natures.

The herd gathered around the water hole and it was interesting to watch the group dynamics.  Some of the smaller ones would try for a spot at the hole and be chased off by bigger ones, and we were just staring at legs and trunks and the elephant’s ears flapping, and then suddenly one of the baby elephants fell into the water hole.  All hell broke loose for a little while and you could completely sense the worry in the mother and some of the other older elephants while it tried to get out.  There was a lot of trumpeting and commotion from the bystanders while the poor little guy was trying to pull himself out before he figured out he could just walk out the other side.

Little Billy and his fall.
As this bit of excitement was resolved, to our right in the same path as the other herd, came strolling out ANOTHER herd of elephants, about 15 in total ranging in all sizes.  This second herd walked up to the water hole and they all kind of hung around saying hello for a little while, asking what they thought of the cool weather, before the first group slowly queued up at the end of the woods and walked off in a different direction.  There were lots of impala around (medium sized ungulates) and I was surprised how nonchalant they were about the presence of so many elephants.  The elephants seemed indifferent to them, except for one extraordinarily curious impala that almost had to square off against an elephant.

Second herd of elephants emerging from the woods.

Elephant-Impala Showdown.
In the meanwhile, those seven giraffes from earlier arrived at the water hole, and they brought friends.  Giraffes are rather timid so I was surprised they would come to drink with so many elephants, but this water hole actually had two separate holes and all of the elephants drank out of the farther one, and the giraffes and impala used the other.  The giraffes would come up in groups of 1-4 to take a drink and then step away and perhaps wander back in the woods or perhaps stand around for a while.

Every time we thought about moving on, another animal would show up - more elephants, giraffes, eland, warthogs, what have you.  Right when things started to get boring ANOTHER herd of about 15 elephants started walking out of the woods from the exact same path the others had taken.  The herds reacted similarly as the last two that met at the water hole, “oh hello, I haven’t seen you in so long,” “little Suzanne sure has gotten big,” “yes, and she’s so sure-footed, not like Molly’s little Billy.  He fell in the water hole just before you got here.  I couldn’t believe it, how embarrassing.”  Or something like that, but it seemed very cordial and social.   
Third herd of elephants emerging from the woods.
While we were absorbed in this, all of a sudden my eye caught something in the rear view mirror and from a different path on the left side of our car three huge, and I mean HUGE, bulls came slowly out.  It was the closest I ever hope to be to an elephant, especially one of that size.  The first two moved on a bit, but the third one kind of hung out near us for a little while and my only solace was that the first elephant was closer to the other truck than the third one was to us.  It was a small comfort but I hung on to it while we talked about whether we should move the car or if the noise and movement would be unwelcome.  Ultimately we decided to wait it out and luckily the three bulls moved on to the water hole to hear about little Billy who fell in.

Evil stare-down from one of the bull elephants.

Procession to the watering hole.

Most adorable animals ever.

Eland (foreground), elephants, and giraffes.

All told, we sat at the water hole for two hours and saw about 45 elephants, 20 giraffes, three zebras, three eland, three warthogs, and numerous impala.  And we didn’t get trampled by a single elephant.

The campgrounds inside the park all have floodlit water holes so we took our Kindles and spent hours there in the evenings.  Although none of the photos turned out, we saw five rhinos, a hyena, and three leopards.  It was awesome.

Banded Mongoose (geese?)

Play Time.


  1. Now that is a whole lot of elephants!

  2. Jeanette, loved all of your pictures & the stories about the elephants & giraffes. I find elephants fascinating & you are right the babies are just darling. I read a children's book about elephants, they show emotion & actually cry when a member of the herd dies.

  3. Wow! That was exciting! So cool you got to see all those animals up close.