In The Beginning Etosha was first inhabited by the nomadic Hai||om Bushmen who lived a peaceful, uncomplicated existence, relying on the migratory herds of game for hunting, gathering what they could from the land. Various Otjiherero-speaking groups and Ovambos could also be found in the surroundings.
The Europeans Enter Etosha:
1851: Charles Andersson and Francis Galton were the first Europeans to record the existence of the Etosha pan, heralding 30 years of conflict between the Europeans and local tribes. Trade Routes around the pan began to emerge and the unrelenting hunting of Etosha wildlife began.
1854: The Hai||om were driven from the area.
1876: Andersson’s eastern trade route merged with that of the American Gerald McKiernan, opening up even more avenues for the on-going slaughter of Etosha’s abundant game species. The Dorsland (Thirstland) Trekkers started to arrive en route to Angola, stopping over at Namutoni and Rietfontein. Many of the trekkers caught malaria and their oxen succumbed to lung disease during this time.
1885: William Jordan, an entrepreneur from Cape Town, bought large tracts of land around Okaukuejo and Fischer’s Pan from the Owambo chief. Jordan then awarded these 2500 hectares of farmland to families from the Dorsland Trek. Clashes with the Hai||om, cattle disease, marauding lions and a final defeat by Chief Nehale Mpingana forced these trekkers to abandon their farms the very next year.
1886: With the trekkers gone, the German Reich sent troops to Okaukuejo, Namutoni and Sesfontein to bring the spread of Rinderpest under control by culling migrating wildlife.
1889: Fort Namutoni was constructed and occupied by the German cavalry until 1904 when it was wiped out by the Ovambos. The fort was rebuilt the following year and eventually became a police station and later, a national monument.
1901: A second military post was constructed by Germany at Okaukuejo and order was restored.
1907: On 22 March Dr F von Lindequist, the governor of German South West Africa, declared Etosha ‘Game Reserve No 2’, incorporating an area of some 80 000 square kilometres. Since then, a number of changes to the boundaries of the park have been made.
1946: The first formal tour to Game Reserve No.2 took place over Easter weekend, consisting of 137 guests transported in 10 open trucks.
1953: BJG de la Bat, the first game ranger to be stationed at Etosha, arrived.
1955: Construction of the boundary fences began and a tourism service was started. That year 6210 people got to enjoy the park and the first rest camp at Okaukuejo was opened.
1957: Namutoni rest camp was constructed to accommodate the ever increasing number of visitors to the reserve.
1958: Ordinance 18 of 1958 reduced the boundaries of the reserve to 55 000 square kilometres and Game Reserve No 2 was renamed Etosha Game Park.
1961: An eruption of a foot-and-mouth disease resulted in the erection of a game-proof fence along the eastern and southern borders of the park.
1967: Etosha was awarded national park status and the rest camp at Halali was set up.
1970: Etosha was reduced to its current size of just over 22,000 square kilometres.
1973: Fencing of the 850 km circumference of the park was completed.
During the late 70’s and early 80’s the border war involving South Africa, Namibia and Angola, as well as a prolonged drought took a heavy toll on the wildlife in Etosha, almost eradicating it.
Since 2004 the Hai||om have been recognised as the rightful inhabitants of Etosha and have been allocated land for resettlement adjacent to the reserve.
Thankfully, Etosha has recovered from its turbulent and sometimes unlucky past to evolve into the beauty that it is today, and remains one of the best places on earth to enjoy Africa’s diverse and fascinating wildlife.