Andrew Watts’ talk on 09 October was a slide show of a camping safari he undertook in August 1998 around one of the least populated countries on the planet, but one that holds a wealth of wildlife.
Mr Watts began by showing us around Etosha National Park, a vast national park in the north of the country that, with an area of just under 23,000 square kilometres, is larger than Wales! At its heart lies Etosha Pan, a seasonal salt pan that during his visit was a dry, flat sheet of white salt of about 5,000 square kilometres, unlike immediately after the rains earlier in the year. The whole area hosts a wealth of wildlife. Some species such as Ostrich and Oryx (known locally as Gemsbok) were to be found where water seeps into the pan itself, whereas Giraffe, Wildebeest, Springbok and Black-faced Impala, a local subspecies, were amongst those species attracted to the fresher water provided by waterholes away from the pan. Common Zebras were also photographed by Mr. Watts, who pointed out the fuzzy coats of the youngsters. Male Greater Kudu were truly spectacular with their long spiral horns, compared with the smaller and hornless females. The game animals at the waterhole attracted Lions and other predators, species harder to see at more verdant times of the year. Black Rhinoceroses were hard to see in the bush during the day, but at night when they come to the floodlit waterholes by the camps and lodges Mr Watts was able to taking satisfying photographs! Additionally we were shown some of the birds occurring in the area including the Sociable Weaver, whose colonial nests resemble the roof of a thatched cottage and can become so heavy that it can break the branches of the Camel Thorn trees that support it.
On leaving Etosha our evening safari visited the Petrified Forest, where the fossilised trunks of trees from millions of years ago were strewn across the landscape and where Welwitschia mirabilis grew with just two leaves showing although they look more for they are shredded by the wind. At Twyvelfontein we were shown engravings made by nomadic bushmen hundreds of years ago, before we reached the Atlantic coast at Cape Cross to see Cape Fur-seals and the lichen fields nearby inland. The coast of Namibia is washed by the cold Benguela Current that draws nutrient rich waters north from Antarctic.
Turning south we looked at birds, such as flamingos and plover, that occur on the beaches and lagoons before we crossed the arid Namib Desert to reach the spectacular dune system at Sossusvlei, where the highest sand dunes in the world are to be found. Climbing the dunes was strenuous, but perhaps not for the small Tok-tokkie Beetles that scurry over the red garnet sand.