Desert Elephants

Up early this morning to chase desert adapted elephants. We teamed up with another vehicle, a German family of four with their guide. Their safari vehicle is open, fresh air and good visibility. Ours is a four door Ford pickup truck with air conditioning. Trailing our little two vehicle caravan was a young hot shot South African who passed us several times, each time raising big clouds of dust. Open vehicle versus A/C.

After about half an hour, we left the road and drove along a riverbed. The ephemeral river is dry most of the year. The elephants hang around near the river as there are places they can dig to get water. After about another half hour, we spotted a small herd of seven.

Desert Adapted Elephant Family

Before colonial times, elephants roamed a large area. But when the Europeans arrived, they claimed vast tracts of land and erected miles of fences. Some elephants were cut off and stranded in the desert (I don’t know how a wire fence could stop a pachyderm that can knock down a tree, but that’s the story). They adapted to life in the desert. Elephants typically need a lot of water; these guys can go three days without drinking. Instead of using mud and water spray to protect their skin from the sun, they toss sand or dust over themselves.

Elephant dust

We were able to get quite close, and at one point, the alpha male came right up to the car to check us out. He was within a foot of Maria, who, by that time, had rolled up the window. Later we saw where he had whacked the car with his trunk.

An adolescent male kept challenging Alpha, we figured it was his dad, and dad kept shoving him back. We guessed he was training for when junior was driven out of the group to fend for himself. It kept going on and on, dad getting crankier and crankier until he chased junior away. 

Dad schooling junior

Dad then reached up into a tree and brought down a big branch. One of the females very gingerly approached to try and get a bite, whereupon he took an aggressive step and trumpeted.

We hung around for an hour or more watching, then headed out to look for desert adapted giraffes. In vain. Back to the camp for lunch and siesta. It is HOT! Maria’s phone overheated, so we wrapped it in a damp cloth and set it on a table to evaporate.

There are baboons on the huge rock pile behind the camp.

Around 3:30, we went to see Twyfelfontein, where there are many petroglyphs made by the San people between 2000 and 5000 years ago. The San are the oldest continuous population on earth, dating back 200,000 years. In more recent times, 5,000-10,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking people from central Africa have moved in, relegating the pure San, who are hunter-gatherer nomads, to the desert. But we can still see and hear them in some of the faces around here, and the click languages. The San no longer live in this part of Namibia, but we hope to see them in Botswana later on this trip.

At Twyfelfontein, we had to climb up this gigantic pile of rocks. It was rough going. And hot with the sun beating down, no shelter, no wind. We saw the glyphs, quite interesting, but the climb and descent were a challenge.

The Namib is the world’s oldest desert at 55 million years (the Sahara is around 3 million years old). Very hot in the daytime, it can get below freezing at night. Some of the ancient mountains have broken up with these extreme temps so they have been reduced to gigantic piles of rocks. Never seen anything like it.

Our tent under a weather-broken mountain

Another fine dinner tonight. Tomorrow, we drive to the coast.