Once, a long time ago, a village was raided in the land of those who called themselves the “real” people. All the men were killed. One widow was so sad that she cried and cried and cried, until her tears filled a large salty lake.
Many pink birds came to that lake, which had begun to shrink in the relentless sun almost as soon as the woman stopped crying. After awhile the lake dried out, leaving behind a vast flat pan with a few waterholes, and the people called it “Etosha” the “place of great white spaces.”
Sometimes, so the legend goes, the rains returned, as if the woman had started crying again, and the pan filled and the pink birds reappeared.
Ten million years ago Etosha was part of a vast inland lake fed by the Kunene River. Two million years ago the land moved in a series of tectonic shifts, taking the Kunene with it, redirecting its waters to the Atlantic. The lake dried out, but in years of good rainfall the pan fills again. And when the waters return, so do the birds, up to one million pink flamingos, a legend fulfilled.
Etosha was once the world’s largest game reserve, 36,000 square miles, but now it is only one-fourth of its former size. It is an ark for many animals - an estimated 2,000 giraffes, 1,500 elephants, 340 species of birds and thousands of zebras. All 8,958 sq. miles of it are contained within a fence.
The white calcareous rocks around Etosha's waterholes are instantly identifiable in photographs, such as this one of a zebra walking through the great white spaces.