The Etosha Pan and the area that would later come to be known as Etosha National Park was first discovered by Europeans in 1851, when explorers Charles Andersson and Francis Galton came to the wild region in the company of Ovambo traders. Etosha can be loosely translated as “Great White Place” in the Ovambo language.
European trade routes to the East and West of the Pan soon began to open up. In 1876, an American trader by the name of McKiernan who had been drawn to the area commented that “all the menageries of the world turned loose would not compare” to the wildlife he saw around him. “We fell in with immense numbers of animals beyond anything I had yet seen. I would scarcely be believed if I said that there were thousands of them to be seen at a sight” he went on to say.
For the proceeding thirty years, the history of the region was characterized by impermanent settlement and movement, sporadic confrontation between Europeans and the Hei//om and Ovambo people that were native to the region, and the increasing threat to animal populations from over-enthusiastic European big game hunters. In 1896 German troops sent by the German Reich occupied the Namutoni region and built a fort in 1899. This original fort was raided and razed to the ground by Ovambos in 1904, but was rebuilt the following year and still stands today as one of the most distinctive features of the park and a national monument.
With the country firmly under German rule by the turn of the 20 th century, the Governor of German South West Africa (as Namibia was then called), Dr. F von Lindqvist, proclaimed Etosha a national game reserve in 1907. At the time the reserve covered over 100,000km 2 of territory, stretching all the way west to the Skeleton Coast in parts and making it comfortably the largest game reserve in the world. But after various controversial and much-contested boundary reconfigurations and political shifts over the years, the park was reduced to its current size of just over 20,000km 2 in 1970.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a vast majority of the wildlife in the park was wiped out either by severe drought or after being caught in the crossfire of the so-called Border War that engulfed Namibia, South Africa and Angola at the time. Thanks to brave conservation efforts, many of the park’s most precious and revered of beasts have had their numbers greatly replenished in recent years, and today Etosha is once again one of the best places in the world to view Africa’s unique wildlife, while the still-visible remnants of its turbulent history continue to add another layer of interest to its mysterious allure.