searching for desert elephants
Following the shoreline north from Swakopmund, one enters the Skeleton Coast, which is rumored to be both desolate and wondrous. We cannot attest to either as we chose an inland route north, traversing Damaraland on the way to Etosha, Namibia’s premier game park. In addition to its indigenous tribes, which speak one of southern Africa’s clicking tongues, Damaraland is famous for its desert-adapted elephants, and it is in search of these that we made our way to the Doro!Nawas conservancy.
Our first elephant sighting was just after sunset the evening we arrived – a lone bull crossed close to our desert lodge as the last light faded from the darkening sky. We set out in search of the rest of the herd the following morning, initially without much success. Our guide directed the car along rocky, almost effaced paths and stopped various times to check elephant tracks. At one point, he crumbled some elephant droppings in his hands to test their freshness and even scaled a sizable hill to scan the countryside, all to no avail.
We did eventually come upon a large herd – one of three that is known to inhabit this barely hospitable terrain. After searching the wilderness, we passed by a campsite where we saw other tourists sitting in their camping chairs, quietly admiring the herd of desert elephants that had just stormed in to feed on the campsite’s trees. They were a magnificent sight.
Although we have seen elephants many times in the wild, the gentle giants of the African bush remain among our favorite animals, and seeing a large herd in all its awesome glory never fails to amaze and delight us. The desert in Damaraland supports more vegetation than we would have supposed; even so, these elephants still have to consciously preserve their food supply to ensure that the foliage that seems plentiful in wet years can still sustain them during the frequent dry spells.
As with our other desert days, we finished our sightseeing before lunch and returned to the lodge early. Also, as with other days, our guide suggested a birding outing to D in the afternoon, and this time S tagged along as well. We added half a dozen new species to D’s burgeoning list, and also stopped by a speck of a desert settlement to pick up a spare tire one of the other Wilderness Safaris guides had left as a replacement for the one we had shredded the previous day.
On the way out from Doro!Nawas the following day, we stopped by Twylfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage site that preserves the best examples of the region’s rock art. Twylfontein’s petroglyphs, which depict giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and many of the antelope and other wild animals that still roam these plains, are believed to have been etched some 6,000 years ago.