The Desert Elephants of Namibia suffered a poaching frenzy in the 1980s. As the most endangered elephant population in the world recovers, every single calf is vital.
“On the whole the Desert Elephant Project has given me experience, sights and memories that will stay with me forever. I don’t think I ever felt as free as I did sitting on top of the land rover on the first day of patrol week taking in the amazing landscape of Namibia.” Elsa, London
Namibia’s desert-dwelling elephants are one of only two such populations in Africa (the other being in Mali) and are of high conservation priority both nationally and internationally. Although not a separate species from other savannah African elephants, Namibia’s desert elephants are special. They have adapted to their dry environment by having a smaller body mass with longer legs and seemingly longer feet than other elephants, allowing them to cross miles of sand dune to reach water (they can survive for several days without it). They eat the vegetation of the short lived riverbeds and live in smaller family groups to decrease pressure on food and water resources.
“This has been an amazing couple of weeks! Build week was a test of strength and wills. Working hard in desert heat, mixing cement and hauling rocks bigger than my head, not to mention the endurance test to withstand dust and sand getting everywhere. Sounds tough, but nothing feels better than finishing up a hard day of work with a bunch of strangers all bound together by a common dirtiness, and enjoying a cider and good conversation.
Patrol week was rewarding around every corner. The landscape continuously changing, and pleasing to the eyes while grasping to the land rover for dear life as it went down the desert terrain, always on the lookout for signs of life. Tracks, nests, poop, then a kudu or an oryx would catch your eye and captivate you for a few seconds until it ran off.
Whenever Mathias would slow down his ride and get out of the truck, we knew it was go time. We climbed a koppie overlooking 10foot tall reeds to view the Ugab herd of elephants. Later we parked in the path of the Huab herd and watched in dead silence as they feasted on branches near 50feet away. Three of these brave ones came right to our vehicle and were so close, I think I could reach out and touch them! They are truly beautiful creatures.
We snuck up on a rhino, observed giraffes, springbok, vultures and jackals. We came across an oryx carcass recently devoured by a leopard, and even followed lion tracks for a spell.
This has been a wonderful experience, and the things our guide, Chris whom has a wealth of knowledge taught me about survival and the animals and insects around us will never be forgotten. One big takeaway from this adventure: Elephant poop smells great when you light it on fire, and keeps the flies away! Can’t wait to come back soon!” Carrie.
The Desert Elephant conservation project takes volunteers to the scenic, tribal area wilderness of the Namib Desert, Damaraland, which runs parallel to the Skeleton Coast National Park. This arid wilderness is the habitat of a surprising variety of animals including lion, leopard, and cheetah, hyena, black rhino, giraffe and baboon. It is also home to a population of desert elephants threatened due to competition for natural resources with the local human population. Working alongside local conservationists from mobile base camps by the ephemeral Ugab River, volunteer teams will immerse themselves in spear-head conservation initiatives to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of the local human and elephant populations. Volunteers will truly enjoy the opportunity of closely observing these special elephants in their natural environment, while camping out under the stars of the African desert, in a manner that few ever have the privilege to glimpse.
“Eating and cooking around the campfire, sleeping under the stars and watching them (I’ve never seen so many shooting stars before), having a great and funny time with super-duper people/new friends, building a huge wall and of course looking for the elephants and watching them for hours – every second will be kept in my mind for the rest of my life!” Caroline.
These desert elephants are always looking for extra help…… Will it be you?