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The Desert-Adapted Elephants of Namibia's Kunene Region

  
  

Namibia is home to one of two known groups of desert adapted elephants in the world, with the other group being found in Mali. As mentioned in a previous post, there are several desert dwelling large mammals in Namibia’s north-western Kunene region. Read on to find out more about Damaraland’s desert elephants.

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A family of elephants traverse the harsh terrain together.
(Photo by Michael Poliza)

How do they survive?

These elephants are very similar to the African bush elephant, but are a bit smaller with larger feet and longer legs than their savannah dwelling cousins.

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A lone elephant surveys her arid surroundings.
(Photo by Norbert Schuster)

They, like humans, have a very long lifespan and structured family hierarchies with the family learning how to live in the arid region together from one another.

Eventually when the young males reach puberty they will split off from their familial herd and join up with other maturing bulls with whom they will grow older. After a time these bulls will find a mate and start their own herd.

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A young bull makes his presence known
(Photo by Norbert Schuster)

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A young bull under the tutelage of an elder bull is sometimes called an “askari”.
(Photo via the Cardboard Box)

These adapted elephants travel in smaller groups than your typical African elephants so that there is less pressure on the group to find the amount of food a large herd would need. They are also able to go several days without drinking any water, which together with their ability to walk long distances, helps them get from one oasis to the next.

Check out this video below for some interesting facts on how these large mammals survive in the unforgiving arid landscape!

Surviving in the deser takes practice.
(Video courtesy of Lynda Gregory, commentary by Russell Vinjevold)

Tracking the elephants

Desert elephants are notoriously difficult to spot as they roll around in the desert dust any chance they get, leaving them the colour of the sand found in their natural environment.

They are also very shy and have poor eyesight, but have excellent hearing and a terrific sense of smell. Thus they frighten easily and extreme patience and silence are required if you do not wish to disturb them.

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Desert elephants, blink and you may miss them!
(Photo by Norbert Schuster)

Like the desert rhinos these massive beasts traverse huge distances on a daily basis, covering up to 70km a day in search of water and food in the sparse and stark landscapes they have made their homes. This makes these gentle giants even harder to track since they roam in area that is over 115,154km2.

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A young elephant reaching high for some delicious greenery.
Most sightings of these elephants happen close to food and water sources.

(Photo by Norbert Schuster)

If you want to track these magnificent beasts you can do so while staying at the Palmwag Rhino Camp that we spoke about last week in our post on desert rhinos. Or ask a specialist operator like Terra Nova to help you organise such an adventure.

Conservation efforts- Get involved!

There were once almost 3000 desert elephants in the Kunene region, but rampant poaching and hunting in the 1980’s casued these numbers to plumet and the gentle giants were on the brink of extinction until just recently.

But through the concerted efforts of the Namibian government and private groups like the Elephant Human Relations Aid these desert animals are slowly growing in numbers each year. Presently the free-roaming population of desert elephants in the Kunene region is sitting around 600.

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Two elephants share a cuddle at a watering hole.
(Photo via EHRA)

EHRA has been running a volunteer project for over eight years now and it has been a huge success. If you read the first hand testimonials of volunteers who have been through the program and look at the tangible effects the organisation has had on the conservation of the Kunene’s elephants, it is clear that EHRA is doing good work for one of Namibia’s threatened species.

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Volunteers at EHRA.
(Photo via EHRA)

If you do not have the time to take part in one of the many volunteer programs associated with conserving the desert elephants but still want to get involved, then you always have the option of donating money to EHRA who will dedicate your pledges to protecting Damaraland’s rare natural treasures.

We can all help

As long as organisations like EHRA exist, and as long as people in Namibia and from around the world remain committed to protecting these beautiful animals they will continue to fight back from the brink of extinction.

Their intelligence and majesty should be preserved for future generations and we can all take part in ensuring this can happen!

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A herd of elephants head out in search of water and food.
(Photo by Anette Mossbacher)

 

More on this topic

Read about the desert adapted rhinos of Namibia

Download our adventure travel planning guide

Find out about Damaraland & Kunene region

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The Desert-Adapted Rhinos of the Kunene

  
  

Namibia has some beautiful environments and one such place is the Kunene region in the North. The region, which is divided into Damaraland and Kaokoland, is mostly desert and semi-desert yet is home to three remarkably large mammals. Specially adapted rhinos, elephants and lions live out their lives in this wind swept and beautifully stark region. Here's more info on the desert adapted black rhinos found in Damaraland and how to catch a glimpse of them on your next trip to Namibia.

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The Kunene after some good rains.
(image courtesy of SRI via Save the Rhino)

What is a desert-adapted rhino?

Many people already know that the black rhino is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world. It is also well-documented that since the 1980’s Namibia has been re-introducing these magnificent beasts into the wild with enormous success.

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Black rhino and calf.
(image courtesy of Areb Busch)

One of the most interesting types of black rhinos that have been rehabilitated in Namibia are the desert adapted black rhinos of the Kunene region. Hunting and poaching had totally eradicated their populations in the arid regions, but since the 1980’s thanks to the work of organisations like the Save the Rhino Trust the population of these national treasures has increased five times!

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Desert-adapted black rhinos at dusk.
(image courtesy of Namibia Tours Safaris)

These specially adapted beasts are able to withstand sweltering heat in excess of 40°C (100°F) and below freezing temperatures that are common place when the sun goes down in the arid regions of Namibia. The rhinos are mostly nocturnal so that they can avoid the excessive heat of the day.

Rhinos caught by a stealth camera on a night-time frolick.
(video courtesy of Save the Rhino International)

What makes desert-adapted rhinos different?

You will know when you have spotted a desert rhino because they look a bit different to other black rhinos. First things first, have a look at the rhinos below; do you notice anything different when compared to other black rhinos?

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You will notice that the horn is slightly longer and thinner than a regular Namibian black rhino, this helps desert rhinos to forage in barren environments.

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A more pronounced example of these animals' specially adapted horns.
(images courtesy of Save the Rhino)

The Rhinos of the Kunene are also unlike other black rhinos in that they are usually found on their own and not in small groups. However, the mother will stay with her calf for up to two and a half years which is long enough for her to teach her young how to survive in the tough conditions found in their habitat.

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Mother and calf foraging in a dried up river bed
(image courtesy of Save the Rhino)

As a result many desert rhino are ‘lone rangers’ and they cut striking figures on the orange and brown backdrops of the natural landscapes. Some of the lone bulls have been known to be quite aggressive, so keep this in mind should you ever be so lucky as to spot one in the wild.

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Ben the lone bull, fabled to be quite a no-nonsense character.
(image courtesy of Anne and Steve Toon via African Rhino)

How can you get close to the rhinos?

These animals roam in a 25,000km2 region, which is only a little bit smaller than the whole of Belgium! The rhinos are also experts at traversing this massive area and have home ranges of between 500km2-600km2. So if you want to spot a desert rhino in its natural environment you will have to be very patient and very committed.

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You need a keen eye and enormous amounts of patience to spot one of these shy creatures.
(image courtesy of Vicki Brown)

One of the best ways to attempt to get close to these exceedingly rare creatures is to stay a few days at the Desert Rhino Camp. This beautifully appointed lodge is located in Palmwag Reserve (also known as the Palmwag Concession) and is one of the few places in the world that offer guided desert rhino tracking excursions.

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With a bit of luck you could spot some of these mighty creatures!
(image courtesy of the Namibian)

The camp is a mobile camp and can be moved all around the region so that it can stay close to the ever-migrating herds of desert adapted animals. As a result there is only space for 12 guests and you will need to book in advance in order to spend some time searching for the rhinos.

The camp not only takes tourists on tours of the rgion but also is an active participant in the promotion and conservation of the deser-adapted black rhino.

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A tracker recording a rare sighting of one of the rhinos.
(image courtesy of African Rhino)

How can you help?

The Save the Rhino trust is always looking for donors and you can pledge however much you want right here. Beyond just simple donations there are numerous ways in which you can get involved, so check out the trust’s relevant section the website by clicking on this link.

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Experience the magic of these curious and rare creatures!
(image courtesy of African Rhino)


More on this topic

Read about a desert rhino tracking adventure 

Download our adventure travel planning guide

Read about the Desert Adapted Elephants

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Rest Camps in Namibia

  
  

Namibia is a very, very big country and driving from each location to amazing location can take hours. As a result of this, many intrepid locals have set up small rest camps along the national roads where travellers can break their long drives and rejuvinate. These lodge-style establishments can be found all over Namibia, and in this post we’re going to tell you what you can expect from a rest camp and where you can find a few of them.

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Rest camps are character filled and unique and each one has something different to offer explorers. Above is a picture of Roy's Rest Camp where we spent a night

Our rest camp experience

After travelling up to Etosha for some game viewing, we were next going to visit Rundu. We decided we would rather break our long drive with a stay at a rest camp. After looking at the map and the available rest camps along the B8 we eventually settled on a place called Roy’s Rest Camp.


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The entrance to Roy's Rest Camp

The accommodation at your typical rest camp is simple and clean and Roy’s is no exception, but each rest camp in Namibia also has its own character and vibe. Roy’s Rest Camp, for example, has been painstakingly decorated by its owners.

Derelict classic cars and all manner of Namibian inspired homemade décor can be found hanging in the trees, at the restaurant and in the rooms.

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We found this old car just by the camp's reception.

Our stay at Roy's was very typical of a rest camp in Namibia. The staff are friendly and interested in your stories and always have time to sit around and chat about what's going on around the camp and the country as a whole. Places like this afford you an opportunity to swap notes with other travellers and get some ideas on what to do while you are in Namibia.

What you can expect from a rest camp

These small camps are unpretentious and unassuming and the people who run them are almost always friendly, welcoming people. Rest camps can also be excellent place to meet up with fellow travellers and maybe make a few new friends by sitting round the fire or poolside.

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Rooms are typically simple, clean and comfortable

Some of the rest camps have other unique features such as farm tours and bird walks, or even game viewing, and so it is always a good idea to ask at the camp's reception if there are any recommended activites for visitors to experience while staying at a particular rest camp.

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Another beautifully rusted out car at Roy's Rest Camp

Some of the camps are self-catering and others have a more typical travel lodge setup. The whole point of a rest camp is to allow a weary traveller to lay down their head for a good night’s rest so that in the morning they can carry on with their journey refreshed and impressed.


Many of the rest camps you will find in Namibia will give you the option of either staying in built chalets, or camping in your own tent. Roy's Rest camp is one such place that offers both, but it is not the only one. So, if you and your travel buddies are up for some outdoor camping then a rest camp may make even more sense for you as you travel through the vast countryside of Namibia.

A short list of rest camps in Namibia

Below is a list of several rest camps situated around the country. As already mentioned, rest camps can be found all over Namibia, so when you are planning your trip consider breaking up some of the long distances and travel days.

 

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Roy's Rest Camp

 

Roy’s Camp is perfectly situated on the B8 main road from Grootfontein to Rundu, 55 km north of Grootfontein.  At ideal stop over to Northern Namibia, Zambezi (formerly known as Caprivi) and Bushman land.


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 Brandberg Rest Camp

 

Located in Damaraland, the Brandberg rest camp has a restaurant, bar, pool and internet facilities.

The camp also offers guests some climbing, exploring and hiking activities.

 

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  Ombo Rest Camp

 

70km North of Windhoek on the Hochfeld road, Ombo Rest Camp has a restaurant but has self-catering chalets as well.

This camp is unique in that it has a wateringhole on its property for game and sunset viewing.

 

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  Kamanjab Rest Camp

 

3km from the village of Kamanjab this quirky camp has a restaurant, bar and can be reached via a nearby landing strip for private planes.

This camp has unique game watching oppurtunities and is home to several friendly giraffes.

 

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 Quiver Tree Forest Camp

 

13km Northeast of Keetmanshoop the Quiver Tree Forest Camp has a swimming pool, a choice between either self-catering or you can use the a la carte restaurant.

Near the camp are incredible geological formations, birdlife and a veritable forest of quiver trees.

 

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Khorixas Rest Camp

 

Situated nearby the Damaraland capital of Khorixas this camp has everything you need to relax when you are halfway thorugh a long journey.

The surrounds in this part of Damaraland are famed for unusual geological formations and ancient rock engravings.

 

As mentioned above this is not a complete list of rest camps in Namibia and no matter where you are travelling in this wide open country you should be able to find a rest camp where you can split up your journey and have an extra mini-adventure.

Each little place that you find in Namibia has something unique and interesting about it and these small establishments give you a chance to experience some of that first hand.

Celebrate World Lion Day by Helping the Lions of Namibia

  
  

Saturday the 10th of August 2013 is the first time that World Lion Day will be celebrated. To coincide with this landmark day the TOSCO trust has decided to offer a two night all inclusive safari adventure at Wilderness Safaris’ Damaraland Camp for one lucky couple. All you have to do to enter this competition is read the post below and then follow the links and the instructions and you could be chosen to experience two nights with a partner in the unforgettable Huab River Valley.

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Looking out over the pool at the Damaraland Camp
(image courtesy of Scott Dunn)

Why we need a World Lion Day

In the past 50 years lion numbers have plummeted by 80-90% leaving only about 25 000 lions today. Many argue that this rapid decline in lion population is more severe than that being suffered by the rhinos of Africa. The scattered and isolated prides of lions that now live all over Africa are massively at risk. Some alarming reports suggest that wild lions could become extinct in as little as 10 years. This would mean that the only lions left in the world would be those raised in captivity.

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Lioness stalking the Hoanib Floodplain
(image courtesy of the Desert Lion Project)

What is happenning to the lions of Africa?

The reasons for this mass slaughtering of lions is varied. The main problem faced by lions arise due to a conflict over resources with human beings. Lions are efficient predators and given the chance they will eat livestock. This makes them a target of local farmers who will then kill lions on-sight in an effort to prevent further livestock losses. Lions are also losing their habitats due to human encroachment, be it in the form of settlements or ever-growing farmlands. Add then to these two factors the fact that lion bones are used medicinally in parts of Asia and you have a massive problem that requires a lot of work to fix.

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Lion cubs in Botswana
(image courtesy of Reuben Goldberg via Timeslive.co.za)

The first step on the long road to saving the African lion is to address each problem facing these noble creatures. We all need to publicize that there is a massive problem facing lions right now. This is what TOSCO and others hope to achieve through initiatives like World Lion Day 2013.

World Lion Day and other lion conservation projects

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Image courtesy of Greg du Toit via Volunteer Africa

Awareness is only the tip of the iceberg. One of the major factors leading to the decline of lion populations in Africa is the conflict between the people of Africa and its lions. People need to be able to share in the profits of having lions on the continent if they are to be convinced to stop killing them. Profit sharing like this would enable local people to not just feel like lions are a threat to their ways of life but are able to rather be a valuable part of their lives.

One such project encouraging the co-existence of lions and humans is the Lion Guardians Project. This project has been extremely successful in encouraging a healthy respect and reverence for lions in Kenya. The basic aims of the project are to establish individuals in communities as lion guardians. These lion guardians are then tasked with keeping the lions away from the villages and farms. This protects the lions from the humans and the humans from the lions. The project has allowed communities to live more peacefully with their lion neighbors and it allows communities to enjoy the benefits of increased and sustainable tourism directly associated with wild lions.

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A Lion Guardian holds a lion’s paw
(image courtesy of Philip J. Briggs via Flickr)

TOSCO Trust, IRDNC and the Desert Lion Project are attempting to launch this program in Namibia. By supporting TOSCO you can directly contribute to the employment of lion guardians to protect these magnificent animals.

This is not the only project in Namibia geared toward conserving wild lions. Since there are currently around 500 – 800 wild lions in Namibia several conservation projects run at the same time. As a result many niche conservation projects are setup across Namibia one such project focusses on a very specific and uniquely adapted lion: The desert adapted lions of the Kunene region.

These desert lions are particularly at risk since they live such a precarious life and are much more likely to be harmed by human activity. Thus TOSCO has decided to partner with local communities, the IRDNC, and the Desert Lion Project to build special lion proof bomas for the local people's livestock. The idea for this project comes from yet another successful Kenyan initiative illustrated in this video by Richard Turere.

Video via TED.com

How you can help... and Win!

Without programs like the ones mentioned above the lion in Africa is doomed. You can help by raising awareness or by giving donations.

In order to encourage awareness about the plight of the lion in Africa TOSCO is giving away a 2-night stay at a luxury resort in Namibia. To enter this competition, simply follow these steps: 

  • Forward this competition to at least 5 friends

After this all you have to do is name 2 organisations that support lion conservation in Namibia.
The answer can be found on the World Lion Day website or on TOSCO Trust’s website. Send your answer by e-mail to info@tosco.org with the subject line “World Lion Day Competition”.

Entries must include your full name, e-mail address and a contact number. The competition closes on Saturday 10 August 2013. The prize will be awarded to one of the senders with the correct answer after the closing date. 

female dunes

A pair of lionesses patrolling the dunes
(image courtesy of Desert Lion Conservation)

Landscape Escape to Damaraland Namibia

  
  

Damaraland demands a certain level of respect. Beautiful, but arid and unforgiving, attractions near this area have names like Burnt Mountain, the Petrified Forest, the Skeleton Coast – all aptly named and an indication of the drama found here.

 

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Desert adapted elephants have special behavioral characteristics, large annual and seasonal ranges and a social structure and daily activities to cope with the environment. If you’re lucky, you could even find the elusive and magnificent desert adapted rhino and desert lions can also be found in the area. 

But it is the contrast to the rest of Namibia that makes this landscape so magical; a real treat for the avid photographer, the wildlife lover and the traveller in search of some peace and quiet.

Perhaps the best description of Damaraland can be quoted from Dominique le Roux on TravelNewsNamibia.com:  

“It was the nakedness, really, that surprised me: the sheer, decadent, unrestrained sensuousness. Why had nobody told me how beautiful this land was? Or had I really been so deaf to their description? The beauty lay all around us; the black rock basalts of 132 million years ago, the tantalising active sand dunes, the knowledge of petrified dunes beneath them, the thought of 55 million years of drought ... Other places are good for soul-searching, but Damaraland is a place for soul-finding”

 

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The view from Grootberg Lodge

 

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The drive to the Himba village


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An aerial view of Damaraland on a flying safari


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Giraffes pause for a photo opp in the afternoon sun


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Springbok scattered across the rugged terrain


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The majestic kudu

 

What to do in & around Damaraland

Take in the breathtaking views and endless landscapes (download our photography travel guide and look at our Capture Namibia blog series for tips on getting the best of Namibia)

Catch a glimpse of desert adapted elephant

Go tracking desert adapted rhino with Save the Rhino Trust

Visit Twyfelfontein, home to the world’s largest concentration of rock art

Climb the highest point in Namibia at 2,573 meters, The Brandberg (burnt mountain) also famous for The White Lady rock painting

Stop over at the artist’s town of Omaruru

Go in search of the Himba for an enlightening cultural experience    

 

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Ask your lodge about excursions to find the desert-adapted Elephants that roam Damaraland


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Tracking the desert-adapted rhino is an unforgettable experience

 

Where to stay

Thankfully for visitors, there are many great desert accommodation options, which means you don't have to rough it in Damaraland in the slightest:  

Grootberg Lodge

Damaraland Camp (recently voted one of the best ecolodges by National Geographic)

Doro Nawas Camp

Desert Rhino Camp

Huab Lodge

Mowani Mountain Camp

Etendeka Mountain Camp

Palmwag lodge

Khorixas Rest Camp

Damara Mopane Lodge    

 

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Imagine floating around in this pool, Grootberg Lodge 

 

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Breakfast doesn't get better than this, Damaraland Camp

 

 

ATTA President in Damaraland

Read more about the Adventure Travel World Summit in Namibia October 2013

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