Essential Namibia us can't see a thing, until we begin to make out the grey shapes he is gesturing towards. " It's the G6," he whispers. The G6 are a group of fi ve adults plus calf. They seem as surprised as we are. One female trumpets deafeningly and runs forward with trunk aloft. I can feel the hairs on my neck bristle. These secretive, wild elephants are just metres from our picnic spot. Later in the afternoon we fi nd the G6 again in another nameless riverbed. They're alert to us, but seem calmer. They've been digging for water and are greedily sucking up their reward. From a distance we admire and photograph. We're intruders in their world, and really fortunate to be here. All too soon the light fades, and Hendrick says we must make camp. Reluctantly we back away as the elephants move off. " This will be our camp for tonight," Hendrick announces. We're just 150m from where we left them. As we eat supper we can hear them in the dark. At one point Hendrick orders us to shush - apparently they're really close. None of us sleep that night, of course. Tomorrow we will do it all over again. W e're gazing into craters pock- marking the sandy Ugab riverbed as the dawn hits the cliffs opposite base camp. These huge impressions are the footprints of Longshanks, the bull elephant that marched through camp the night before we arrived, as the volunteers were preparing for bed. They look gigantic, and I'm suddenly as relieved as I was previously disappointed, that he didn't retrace his steps as I picked my way to the loo last night. We grab a photograph before rejoining the group. We're about to accompany it on patrol, tracking desert elephants through the bush and camping wild under the stars for several days. Although we've just been staring at the evidence, I still don't believe we're going to see any elephants. It takes a while to load the bed rolls, provisions and volunteers onto to the EHRA truck - or Tardis, given how much they've squeezed on. I jump in next to Hendrick Munembome, head tracker, and try to get comfy on a bag of apples. Steve will follow behind in our 4WD with assistant tracker Cody. In case you're wondering, EHRA stands for Elephant Human Relations Aid. It's a non- profi t making organisation started in 2001 by South African Johannes Haasbroek to help protect desert elephants and the region's subsistence farmers, when both were coming into increasing confl ict over water and grazing. The formation of wildlife- friendly conservancies, along with other conservation initiatives, has led to an increase in the elephant population in recent years, and a number have moved back into territories they haven't occupied for many years. EHRA's volunteer programme plays an important part maintaining equilibrium between the elephants and the farmers at the sharp end of this competition for resources. Although volunteers have the privilege of tracking the elephants like this, they earn it by spending the fi rst week of two shifting boulders and mixing cement to help elephant- proof community wells and water pumps. First stop is ' Johny's Super Save', a local store. The EHRA ethos is about mending all kinds of fences, not just the physical ones. Keeping local people onside is vital. Hendrick explains that, in addition to passing the time of day, locals may know 32 Travel Namibia where the elephants were last seen Later, deep in the bush, we've stopped for lunch in a nameless riverbed. We've climbed a dozen kopjies to scan for elephants and examined a ton of dung, but still not seen them. We've been bogged down in sand and thwarted by dense mopane. At one point, gap year students Sam and Lavinia were nearly thrown off the truck when it hit an aardvark hole. Now a load of ticks have invaded our lunch site, so it's time to start the search again. Just as we're driving out of the riverbed Hendrick senses movement ahead, and motions for quiet. The rest of These huge impressions are the footprints of Longshanks, the bull elephant that marched through camp the night before, as the volunteers were preparing for bed
Heritage Travel Namibia 33 EXPERIENCE IT! DID YOU KNOW? Unlike typical African bush elephants, Namibia's desert elephants rarely uproot trees or break branches, so preserving rare vegetation CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Trackers can tell a great deal from examining elephant dung balls; The EHRA team spot the G6 family group; desert elephants dig for water with their trunks; Longshanks formidable footprints ¦ WHAT'S INVOLVED: EHRA run two-week volunteer programmes all year round, but you can stay on longer. Groups are small and friendly, and no special skills are required. A week of building work is followed by several nights on elephant patrol in the bush. Volunteers take turns preparing meals, making morning tea etc. EHRA also run charity elephant treks. ¦ WHERE: The remote northwest of Namibia in the vicinity of the Brandberg mountains. Swakopmund is the ideal jumping off point for EHRA volunteering. Base camp is beautifully situated by the Ugab riverbed. ¦ FIND OUT MORE: The EHRA website is at www. desertelephant. org or you can email info@ desertelephant. org ¦ COST: A typical two- week programme costs £ 480 and includes meals and accommodation.