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African Salt Pan Safari

Etosha National Park’s giant salt pan in Africa makes it a sanctuary for a host of animals beyond Africa’s Big 5, by Ute Junker

When it comes to an African safari, it is the big animals – rhinos and hippos, lions and cheetahs – that get all the press. However, the honey badger is just one of a score of smaller but no-less-fascinating species that make their home in Namibia’s Etosha National Park.  Etosha is a remarkably dry area; its most distinctive feature is a huge salt pan that covers an astonishing 4,700 square kilometres (the largest salt pan in Africa). The arid landscape actually makes it easier to spot animals, which congregate not just at waterholes but also at the salt licks, a vital source of minerals for many animals.

Take the aardwolf, a nocturnal creature that is neither an aardvark nor a wolf. A relative of the hyena, the aardwolf survives mainly on termites, which it scoops up using its long tongue. On a good night, an aardwolf will eat its way through about 250,000 termites

Image of Aardwolf through African bush, fauna in Africa
Goshawk flying, fauna in Africa

If you want to spot an elusive honey badger on a Namibian safari, here is an insider tip: look for a goshawk instead. The low-slung honey badger may be one of the fiercest fighters in the African veldt but he is also a stealth hunter, so skilled at moving unseen through long grass and thorny thickets that few visitors to Etosha National Park ever spot one. However, goshawks are a different matter. These sharp-eyed birds often follow honey badgers, hoping to score some leftovers after the badger has fed. If you see some goshawks sitting on the ground, chances are that there is a honey badger close by.

Another animal you might spot on a night drive is the lesser-known bush baby, a tiny creature that could fade into invisibility if it weren’t for its huge saucer eyes, which catch the torchlight. These tiny primates weigh about 200 grams; with their oversized ears and their owl-like ability to swivel their heads, they are entirely endearing. They are far from helpless, however; if you get too close, they will leap out of range. These little fellas can jump four to five metres in one leap, using the friction pads on their palms and soles of their feet to land securely.

View of Etosha National Park waterhole, Namibia
Image of bushbaby in African bush at night, fauna in Africa

In the mornings, look for kudu heading to the waterholes. By rights, kudu should be easy to spot; not only are they tall, but the males’ spiral horns add significantly to their 1.6-metre height. However, in the bush, this shy animal demonstrates an impressive ability to disappear when it hears people approach.

View of Kudo in foreground of African plains, fauna in Africa

One creature you won’t spot at a waterhole is the dik-dik. One of the smallest species of antelope, they typically stand no taller than 30 centimetres. With their huge eyes and coltlike legs, these cute creatures look like something from a Disney cartoon. However, these animals have an impressive ability to survive on remarkably little water, using a range of mechanisms including the ability to lower both their body temperature and their metabolic rate if necessary.