Text and images by Peter Delaney
Parked under the shade of a camel thorn tree; windows open with a slight breeze washing over me. I pour myself some coffee and reflect on the morning drive – a frustrating start to the day. I had driven close to five hours covering 150km and had seen very little in the way of wildlife. A few metres away, a sprinkling of springbok and zebra make their way to the man-made waterhole. They drink their fill then head towards bushes to enjoy some shade from the scorching sun.
Usually, at this time of year, you will find a plethora of animals congregating around waterholes with plenty vegetation nearby. But this year (2019) the rains were late and inadequate. Vegetation is scarce and wildlife is dispersed across the vast reserve in search of food. I finish my coffee and decide to continue my search for wildlife.
The lack of rains had now turned the reserve into a giant dust bowl, at its heart is a shimmering bare expanse, called Etosha Pan, the biggest salt pan in Africa. Along the edges of the pan, there are natural springs that bubble to the surface creating life-saving streams of water. Overflow of water from these streams form pools of calcrete mud. Elephants and rhinos often use the mud from these pools as a form of sunblock and as a protective layer against parasites. The animals visit these mud pools from midday to late afternoon; this was where I decided to concentrate my efforts for the rest of the day.
Arriving at the edge of Etosha Pan, my heart sank. The mud pools were void of any wildlife. I decided to wait, but to be honest, I was out of ideas and tired from all the driving. The wind was eerily quiet, a sense of loneliness swept over me; I felt vulnerable in this vast empty landscape. My failure to capture any worthwhile photographs added to my dark mood, images and thoughts of my family many thousands of miles away filled my head. My eyes filled with water. I shook my head and wiped at my eyes, admonishing myself for being so foolish.