The Etosha Pan is a large salt pan, forming part of the Namib Desert in the north of Namibia. The 120-kilometre-long (75-mile-long) dry lakebed and its surroundings are protected as Etosha National Park, one of Namibia's largest wildlife parks. The pan is mostly dry but after a heavy rain it will acquire a thin layer of water, which is heavily salted by the mineral deposits on the surface of the pan, which most of the year is dry mud coated with salt.
This area exhibits a characteristic white and greenish surface, which spreads over hundreds of kilometres. The pan developed through tectonic plate activity over 10 million years. About 16,000 years ago, when ice sheets were melting across the Northern Hemisphere land masses, a wet climate phase in southern Africa filled Etosha Lake. Today the Etosha Pan is mostly dry clay mud split into hexagonal shapes as it dries and cracks. The Etosha Pan is seldom seen with even a thin sheet of water covering it. It is assumed that today's Kunene River fed the lake millennia ago but over time tectonic plate movements caused a change in river direction - causing the lake to run dry and leave a salt pan. Now the Ekuma River is the sole source of water for this region. Typically, little river water or sediment reaches the dry lake because water seeps into the riverbed along its 250-kilometre (55-mile) course.
The area surrounding the Etosha Pan consists of dense mopane woodland which is occupied by herds of elephants on the south side of the lake. Mopane trees are common throughout south-central Africa, and host the Mopane Worm, which is the larval form of the Mopane Moth, an important source of protein for rural communities. The area was first explored by European explorers Charles John Andersson and Francis Galton in 1851. The American commercial traveller McKeirnan visited the area in 1876.
The surrounding savanna is home to a number of mammals that will visit the pan and surrounding waterholes when there is water. These include quite large numbers of zebra, Blue Wildebeest, as well as white rhinoceros, elephant, lions, leopard, and antelope.
This harsh dry land with little vegetation and salty water, is visited by many migratory birds. The hypersaline pan supports brine shrimp and several extremophile micro-organisms tolerant of the high saline conditions. In particularly rainy years the Etosha Pan becomes a lake approximately 10 cm in depth and becomes a breeding ground for flamingos, which arrive in their thousands, just like the Great White Pelican.