What is the Etosha Pan

The Etosha Pan is the jewel in the crown of The Etosha National Park; it’s easy to see why. It covers 4800km², measuring 130kms long and 50kms in its widest parts; it is the largest salt pan in Africa. The flat, oval-shaped pan accounts for almost one-quarter of the National Park and is so distinctive that it is possible to see it from space!

Where is Etosha Pan?

Northern Namibia is home to one of the largest and most significant game reserves in Africa, the Etosha National Park. It is a fenced reserve that teems with an abundance of wildlife. It is open year-round, is accessible from many regions, and is a safe place to visit for a day or stay for a vacation.
The Etosha pan is in the eastern region, is by far the largest of the three salt pans in the park.

What is a salt pan?

Hai//om Legend would have us believe that thousands of years ago, a small village existed in Etosha. Rival tribesmen pillaged one day, slaughtering all of the inhabitants, except for a single woman. She cried so hard in mourning for her lost loved ones that her tears formed a lake. When the sun evaporated the water, all that it left behind was the salt from her tears. It was the creation of the Etosha salt pan.  In reality, the pan is a naturally occurring phenomenon, formed more than 100-million years ago.   It is a simple hollow in the ground where water has evaporated, leaving behind mineral, salt deposits.
The Etosha pan was once a lake, bigger than any you could imagine. Due to an ever-changing climate combined with a tectonic shift, the Kunene River that once fed the lake redirected out to the Atlantic Ocean. In the modern-day, the pan receives water from the Ekuma and Oshigambo Rivers, but only when rainfall is exceptionally high; a rare occurrence. It happens during summer and lasts briefly, soon evaporating by the relentless sun.
The Etosha pan is dry for most, if not all the year.

Is there anything to see at the Etosha Pan?

During the dry season, expect shimmering shades of white and green; you won’t be disappointed. Be prepared for the abundant nature and wildlife that surround you, more than you might imagine.  The pan may be inhospitable to lots of plant life, but some hardy grasses are tolerant enough to survive. Halophytic grass is a favorite of the grazers and grows in abundance. Much of the grassland of Etosha is by the pan; it grows well in the sandy soil found there.  Grassy plains, known as savannahs, virtually surround the pan.
In times of exceptionally high rainfall, the tributary rivers overflow, creating shallow lakes, no greater than 10cm deep in the pan. It results in one of the most magnificent sights to behold; a blur of pinks and whites as wading birds descend to the water’s edge. 
It becomes a breeding ground for flamingos; at any one time, their number reaches around 1-million birds. They are joined by storks, great white pelicans, and grebes, all taking advantage of the watering hole.
Many mammals trek across the pan, usually searching for water. The highly alkaline rainwater provides excellent salty nutrition for the animals. Zebra, giraffe, and elephants are common sightings trudging through the bleak, chalky whiteness of the pan.  Small wildlife is easier to spot against the backdrop of white. Jackals, bat-eared foxes, honey badgers, and ground squirrels foraging for food are just some of the smaller creatures that inhabit the Etosha pan and surrounding savannah.

Flora and Fauna

The Etosha pan is a harsh and dry land with little vegetation. It supports very little wildlife for most of the year; but now and then, when conditions are right, this desert becomes home to many migratory birds who come from afar.

The hyper-saline pan also provides habitat for brine shrimp (who can survive anywhere saltwater collects), as well as some extremophile microorganisms that live here despite its high saline content. These organisms have adapted over time so they’re able to call this place their own! In the rainy years where enough precipitation falls on Etosha pan, an oasis forms: 10 cm deep ponds become prime breeding ground for flamingoes which arrive in thousands, and the great white pelican.

Final thoughts about Etosha Pan

Any visit to Etosha National Park wouldn’t be complete without traveling to the far eastern corner to wonder in awe at the Etosha pan. It is a vast expanse of desolate, white soil; that shimmers in the merciless heat from the sun. It remains difficult to comprehend how the pan (that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie) is home to mammals, reptiles, birds, and lush vegetation.  Translated, Etosha means Great White Palace, and it is easy to see why.

The Etosha pan is within Etosha National Park and is designated as a Ramsar wetland of international importance and a World Wildlife Fund ecoregion.

If you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most frequently asked questions and answers
+ What is Unique About The Etosha Salt Pan?

The Etosha Salt Pan is the centre of the wildlife-rich, 8,598 square mile (22,269 square km) park. With a large concentration of old and new world big game species such as lions, elephants, rhinos, elephants, zebras and springboks; this natural safari has been a favourite amongst travellers who enjoy seeing Africa’s animals close up in their native habitat for decades.

+ How Did the Salt Pan Form?

It is believed that the Etosha pans were developed when tectonic plates shifted over 10 million years ago. They are thought to have been created by a wet climate phase in southern Africa around 16,000 years ago and the melting of ice sheets across land masses of Northern hemispheres like Europe.

+ Is Etosha North or South of Windhoek?

The famous Etosha Pan lies to the north east from Windhoek and stretches over 800 sq km into what is also known as “Namib Desert”. It’s a popular destination for wildlife photographers and tourists. It is one of the top 10 wildife parks in Africa

Etosha Pan

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