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.
Essential Namibia their logistical support is provided by Wilderness Safaris, who operate Desert Rhino Camp in partnership with SRT, and it's this unique collaboration which gives tourists staying at the camp the unforgettable opportunity to join a patrol and track these charismatic animals through the desert wilderness. As we head back to camp for a late lunch, Gotlod tells us our close encounter was with a bull named Ben, who can be " a bit naughty." We exchange glances. The adrenalin is wearing off, and we appreciate how lucky we have been, in more ways than one. D ansiekie, Dansiekie, Dansiekie, come in." Nothing. " Erwin, Erwin, Erwin, come in'" Nothing. Perched high on the open- back 4WD we can glimpse the two trackers working their way along the heavily vegetated riverbed, down below. Gotlod tries again. " Dansiekie, Dansiekie, Dansiekie, come in." A crackled response: " Dansiekie, stand by." Below we see Dansiekie wave at us. He says something to Gotlod over the radio, in Damara, and Gotlod turns to us and translates, " The spoor is heading out of the riverbed, up that dry valley beyond. It's very fresh." Gotlod guns the vehicle into life and points it into the riverbed. The gravel bank is strewn with football- sized boulders, and by all rights should be impassable to anything but a tank. In the past two days we've had to reappraise our understanding of where a 4WD can drive. We're soon ploughing through the thick soft sand in the riverbed, then launching up the opposite bank. We catch up with Dansiekie and Erwin and a brief conversation ensues. The dry valley forks in two, and it isn't clear which way the rhino has gone. The trackers have consistently astonished us with their ability to detect the faintest rhino spoor, but here the gravel is very hard, and an assortment of Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe, kudu and rhino have trekked down to the standing water in the riverbed over the past few days. Spiralling out, the trackers would certainly pick up the fresh spoor again, but we're in a hurry to catch up with the rhino while it's still on the move in the cooler part of the morning. We decide to split up: the trackers head on foot up one branch of the valley, we drive up the other. Even after the good rains that Namibia has enjoyed, the valley is parched, a vast open expanse of short grass and bare gravel punctuated only by the occasional euphorbia bush. Gotlod calls them ' rhino ice- cream'. The euphorbia sap is deadly poisonous to man, but the rhinos lap it up. We bump along the valley then suddenly: " Rhino, Rhino, Rhino!" We follow Gotlod's outstretched arm, and there it is, the plump backside of a rhino bull, striding purposefully up the valley. But the wind is all wrong. If we follow the rhino it will catch our scent and be off at a rate of knots. Instead Gotlod swings 34 Travel Namibia CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ben, the bull desert rhino; sap from the euphorbia bush is deadly to man, but a favourite snack for rhinos; Dansiekie records details of the rhino sighting; an adrenalin-pumping moment, facing up 1400kg of desert rhino; Save the Rhino Trust has been monitoring desert rhinos for many years and knows the history of each individual Suddenly 1400kg of bad attitude is in front of us, alert, suspicious, ears pricked, nose twitching. It can sense there's something wrong, but its poor eyesight doesn't pick us out. It advances a few steps the vehicle round and we backtrack, turning up the other valley fork. Pausing only to pick up Dansiekie and Erwin, we hurtle up the valley then cut across the high ground. Jumping out of the vehicle we clamber down the loose gravel to the valley floor, hoping Gotlod has judged it right. If he has, we should now be in front of the rhino. He has, and we are. Suddenly 1400kg of bad attitude is in front of us, alert, suspicious, ears pricked, nose twitching. It can sense there's something wrong, but its poor eyesight doesn't pick us out. It advances a few steps. We should be terrified, here in the open, no cover, nowhere to run, confronted by this living dinosaur, this irascible, unpredictable behemoth. But it's adrenalin, not fear, that causes our hands to shake as we oh- so- slowly lift our cameras and frame our shots. Twenty seconds, a lifetime, passes, then someone's foot dislodges a pebble, the rhino snorts, turns, and trots away. It's over. We remember to start breathing again. Dansiekie crouches over his notebook, recording details of the sighting. He and Erwin are trained and employed by Save the Rhino Trust, the organisation which has done so much to safeguard Namibia's desert- adapted black rhinos. Much of