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Beauty Behind Fences in Etosha


Etosha 11-12/02

Etosha National Park, “The Great WEhite Place of Dry Water”, one of the largest wildlife reserves in the world. The numbers are bewildering: 93240 km2 1907, when the park was founded, are now 22912 km2. 114 species of mammals, over 340 species of birds, 11o species of reptiles and 16 of amphibians live in the 350km wide space, dominated by the 4731 km2 pan, left behind after a vast sea evaporated some 2 to 10 million years ago. When we hear the word Africa we dream of such magical places.

The roads run straight to Etosha gates, long ago has the bushman motherland been taken by foreign hands. A vast sky over the infinite green, left and right hundreds of miles of fences. A beautiful jailhouse for nature, beauty held captive behind the property lines of huge farms. We saw hefty herds of cattle, showroom-ready John Deer tractors under neatly organized sheds, lavish ranches, stunning gardens. These farms belong mostly to Namibians. White Namibians. Their properties are fenced in typical Namibian style: rows of wire suspended on simple wood poles. A transparent, non-obtrusive fence that allows the eye to wonder over the horizon. Solid gravel roads, proper signage, all is clean and well organized. But nothing recalls the freedom of the vast African wild, all one can do is keep on driving, always forwards, between the parallel fences. Like in a predetermined computer game, freedom is to select the gear, but not the direction.

We bushcamped a few dozens Ks from the park. For the first time we had to build around our camp a defense line: bike, rocks, tree trunks.

Quick dinner, leftovers well packed in bags and hidden deep in our alu boxes.

And a brief breakfast, rushing to enter the park.

The last miles to Etosha gate turn again from gravel to smooth tarmac. Nobody in sight, just bored gate keepers who confirmed our suspicion that we were not allowed to drive inside on our motorbike. Was this the right place? We spent all morning driving back and forth between the lodges that offer safaris and games drives, trying to find a way to visit the park, even if for a few hours. The only option for who doesn’t have their own car is to hop on an expensive trip that can last from 3 hours to a few days. So we hopped on our game drive, cold water, sodas and beer included. The Defender had 9 seats, but we were alone, feeling ridiculously touristy with our Damara driver-guide, Ahue, like a couple arrived in search of hardcore shots to brag with in front of their friends. It was an unforgettable afternoon. We understood, once inside, why motorbikes are not allowed. We saw many things: cape vultures, tawny eagles, double banded coursers, helmeted Guinea fowls, Blacksmith lapwings, white storks, red-billed teals, grey go-away birds, cape crows, kori bustards, Bradfield’s hornbills, lilac-breasted rollers, ostriches, Burchell’s starlings, sidestripped jackals, warthogs, oryx, springboks, duikers, Burchell’s zebras, griraffes, kudus, blue wildebeests. And elephants, an entire herd led by the matriarch, passing from their mud bath at arm’s length away from us. And in the savannah watered by the ongoing rainy season, a pride of lions: Petrina, the dominant female, a second adult female, 8 cubs 8-9 months old, and the lion, all enjoying their prey of the day, a whole zebra. But we will not hide the fact that we also saw many other cars (rentals, private or tour operators) chasing, along us, the wonderfully free, almost improbable wildlife. The hardest most shameful moment was to see the 40 cameras belonging to the 40 tourists packed inside a bus – a bus in Etosha, people!!!! – turned upon the pride of lions. We must admit, going on a safari like that is not our cup of tea. We never meant to do it, but we dit it. The joy was less pure, the lesson difficult to digest. But we will not turn this report into a rant about morality and the debatable politics of star national parks. It is time for some photos that barely attempt to capture the ingenuity and fragility of our world.

Blue wildebeest

Lion cubs


Cape vultures

Blue Wildebeest

Burchell’s zebra






The pan

Lilac-breasted roller, the national bird of Botswana

Tawny eagle

The matriarch

African grey hornbill & Cape glossy starlings


Blacksmith lapwing

Southern pale chanting goshawk


Kori bustard

Sunset over the Etosha plains


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