Namibia is home to what have become known at the 'Desert Elephants.' The whole idea of desert elephants has been somewhat mystified by the tourism industry and others. But they are behaviorally special elephants, that do live in a hyper arid Desert.
The elephants are found in Namibia's remote northwest. Over the last 10 years of guiding in Namibia, I have come to learn a little about these elephants.
The desert elephants have seen their share of trouble. Namibia has only been independent for just under two decades. Before that there was fighting in the north, South Africa vs. Angola. The northwest saw a lot of trouble with troops shooting at wildlife, including rhinos and elephants. Since then, these elephants have had to contend with increasing human contact in the community areas, as well as the explosion of 4wd culture in southern Africa, and even things like Quad bikes (or ATVs) have had an impact.
Despite these issues, these elephants are not running as scared as the elephants I got to know in northern Kenya as a child during the bad poaching times. But they are wild and don't always like people. They deserve respect.
The story then...well, years ago I was doing a camping trip through the area. I was camping in Twyfelfontein. Those early years were such fun. I loved the camping trips at the time, I still love camping. In those days it was wild. My first year in Namibia I counted 99 nights that I slept outside (that doesn't include tents or in vehicles.)
On this particular night I was camping in Twyfelfontein area, in the Aba Huab campsite. Dinner finnished, my camp assistant and I cleaned up and went to bed. I had been busy, and didn't really take a good look around at the spot we were in.
I slept in my bedrole, on the top of the trailer that we pulled behind our safari adapted Toyota Dyna truck. I always find that I still lie awake a while on these nights. Often guests go to bed at about 8h30 on camping trips. I can't do that. So I have learned a little about astronomy and look around.
Now, I am not one of those people with sounds of the night paranoia (most of the time.) But as I lay there, I noticed a shape off to the right, far enough back behind my head that I couldn't see it. It couldn't be a tree - trees in this area are mainly Mopani trees, and they don't form a nice round shape.
I looked a little harder...was it? Must be? A large elephant standing behind me. A really big one. And it was close.
I got those short but heavy rushes that go through your body at these times. The feeling that you want to jump off the trailer, but the relization just as quickly that that isn't the right thing to do.
My mind went to work for a while. It was an elephant, surely. I have even seen elephants move through this campsite before. My firt time camping there, they had taken out the water pipes coming from the tank on the roof. Not showers that morning. I knew the elephants were here, and this could...no, it was one.
What was it going to do? I didn't know. I thought, it is probably better not to move. I had a friend (or old boss) who was fixing a borehole motor one time, and while sitting there working, fully focusing on the porblem of the parts he was fixing, didn't notice the elephant coming up behind him. His back was to the fence, using the fence post as a back rest. The elephant stuck it's trunck in, smelled him, and then left him alone.
Would this elehant do the same to me? It could just as easliy pick me up and throw me to the ground. But elephants usually show some bad feelings if they don't like you there. It's quiet manner made me believe that this elephant was just passing through and amazingly, had taken some time to sleep (elephants basically just stop for a while as their way of sleeping.)
I relaxed and actually started to enjoy the encounter. It hadn't killed me yet, I thought I would be alright. And in the morning I could show my guests the tracks. It would be really something if it did stick out it's trunck and smell me. I still didn't move. I lay still until I started to doze off a little.
I fell asleep. I woke up hours later. I was still nervous to lift up my head and have a proper look, but I was sure it would be gone. I looked. No, still right there. This was strange. I got scared again. Why would an elephant just stay there. I got worried in a way that one does only at 4h30 in the morning. I tried to crane my neck around. It still looked just like an elephant. But it hadn't moved all night.
Some time later, morning sounds as people were waking up in other campsites. People were walking to the bathroom like normal. Didn't they see the elephant. I risked it, with the first hint of light, and had a look....
It was a bush. A nice round bush. I even looked fro tracks. Nothing. I had been so sure in the night.
Desert elephants have been one of the great conservation successes of the north western part of Namibia, and this is especially so because of the work of many private individuals and ngo who have helped create areas like the Etendeka and Palmwag Concseions, as well as those who helped form the skeleton coast park and most recently, all the work to create community concessions.
Footnote: This post is entered into a competion on Problogger