Like the rest of Namibia, Etosha National Park starts to blossom again when the long-awaited rains finally arrive after several years of drought. Nature is waking up and new life begins. Plants appear in fresh green and burst into flower in all colours and shapes, countless insects hatch after having waited in the dry soil for this moment of abundance. Colourful or well-camouflaged butterflies flit about, looking for a mate and for nectar on the flowers. Various bird species return from their winter quarters in Europe or Central and East Africa to use the richly laid table for rearing offspring. The birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have suffered great hardship to survive the drought, but now they all have offspring on the way. Life in Etosha National Park is about survival and maintaining the species.
Man is only a guest here and should take care to disturb the course of nature as little as possible. We should admire nature and its creatures, learn from them and realise that they can do without us, but that we cannot do without them! We need the plants, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. In the rainy season, the green period, visitors to Namibia’s most famous national park should make a point of looking for the small creatures, because they are not seen as often as giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras and antelopes.
Dozens of butterflies of the most diverse species, some of them with extravagant colouring, gather in the drying puddles on the gravel roads. Birds build their nests in shrubs and trees along the roads, partly visible from afar – like the ball-shaped nests which the Masked Weaver constructs with fresh grass, or the untidy looking nests that the Cape Crow put together with thorny twigs. Inside, however, those tattered nests are neatly cushioned with the tail hair of oryx antelope and soft feathers of other birds. Then there are the well-camouflaged nests hidden among leaves or plants on the ground. Chicks like those of the Crowned Lapwing follow their parents already just a few days after hatching and, when in danger, lie motionless on the ground. There they are disguised so well that they are almost never spotted.
In their first days of life the young of antelopes and gazelles are at intervals left behind in a hiding place where they wait motionless and almost scentless for their mothers to return and the chance to suckle greedily. In the rainy season the mammals tend to spread across the entire park, since water and food is available everywhere. Elephants and other herbivores use the time of plenty to move to areas with no permanent water but more than enough food. The predators have to follow them and therefore it happens that visitors do not come across the concentrations of large mammals seen in winter and before the first rains. But the many small animals can be admired instead.
Lesser Flamingos and their larger conspecifics only come to Etosha National Park if there is enough water in the Fisher Pan near Namutoni or in the vast Etosha Pan.
Numerous other species of waterfowl can also be observed then, such as Yellow-billed Storks, ducks, geese, Black-winged Stilts, Common Greenshanks, Spoonbills and Plovers. The Red-breasted Swallow, an inter-African migratory bird, sits on shrubs next to the road and builds its elaborate mud nests on the ceiling of drainage channels under the road. Countless male birds in their magnificent, colourful breeding attire try to attract the females’ attention. Some use chanting, occasionally complicated tunes, or chirping and/or dancing to impress.
Nature is alive, the rain saw to that, and the human guest only needs to discover this splendour and enjoy it.
Author: Dirk Heinrich