Every elephant is vital
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.
Here is a latest account from a current wildlife volunteer Camilla, aged 28 years, spending 4 weeks at the Namibia Desert Elephant project, where she alternates her time between Build Week and Patrol Week:
“7 bewildered faces stand looking at the foundations of a wall to protect a water pump. It takes no more than 30 seconds for the realisation of what we’d signed up to do, to hit home. 3 volunteers had already done a couple of weeks and they quickly showed us fresh faced 7 what to do. Thank goodness they were here!
Sat at home in London, and between jobs, I was looking for something to do, which would preferably take me back to Namibia.
Having been before, I’d fallen in love with the country and a chance Google search led me to the Desert Elephant Volunteer project. After a brief look on the website, I quickly sent an email to book a place. A month later, and the London city girl was in khakis, boots and working gloves (with a feminine touch of purple of course), about to do her first rock run.
The team quickly bonded over rock running, sand collecting and cement mixing by hand. The work was harder than anticipated, but mainly due to us all overestimating our fitness. I found muscles that haven’t been used in 28 years. It was fantastic though and we settled into a routine of duties, building, snoozing and eating.
Camping outside is magical
Camping outside is magical. We’d watch the stars and the growing moon, sit around the fire with a drink and help the cooks for the night. There is something so satisfying about ending a day physically tired, full from great food and with such interesting people. Our two guides Ernest and Christine kept us entertained too. Ernest taught us Damara (or at least he tried) and Christine prevented some of the cook novices from poisoning the group (mainly me – thanks Christine).
During the days, Ernest and Christine showed us the local wild life such as different types of scorpions, centipedes, soldier ants and spiders. The hope had been to get the wall finished but unfortunately we ran out of cement before that happened. At first we were a little down beat but when we stopped for team pictures it became evident what we’d achieved in 4 days.
From suits, offices and meetings to working outside covered in dust and cement!
Overall it was such a pleasure to go from suits, offices, meetings and metaphorically getting my hands dirty, to working as a team outside all day, covered in dust and cement and building something tangible. I loved it so much, I’m back next Monday to repeat it all over again.
Final thought: To the inventor of wet wipes, we salute you!
So if we’re honest, this is why we’re all really here. The opportunity to see wild elephants up close and personal is the project’s “thank you for the building week.” It also plays a vital role in tracking 3 separate herds. This week also promises more sleeping under the stars and the chance for us to perfect our “wet wipe shower” technique
I really don’t miss my phone and communication devices
Something that instantly strikes me is how I really don’t miss my phone and communication devices. It’s so liberating spending the days outside, climbing koppies and following elephant tracks.
Day 1 wasn’t our day. We saw lots of tracks including those of the baby calf, but the elephants had decided to play hide and seek. We did see some of the downside to the desert though. There were a lot of wire snares laid across the river to trap and kill birds. Chris, who was joined by Matthias in guiding us, cut them up to try to discourage the people behind it. It was rather alarming to see how common place they were. Whilst elephants were hiding, we did see a lot of beautiful birds, ostriches and “Australian elephants”(known as cows by everyone else).
We drove through picturesque scenery before setting up camp for the night.
Day 2 and the rest of the week were more successful. We saw 2 bulls which the project were concerned had been killed, and an as yet unidentified bull. We climbed lots more koppies in our hunt for these beautiful and majestic animals and also collected a couple of fresh dung samples. There is something truly mesmerizing about been so close to these “gentle giants”.
Our last night of patrol was spent at base camp reflecting on two incredible weeks. We have so many stories, jokes and memories to take home with us. For 3 of us, we are already chomping at the bit to return on Monday!
Final thought: To the incredibly hard working team behind the Desert Elephant Volunteer project, we salute you all for an unforgettable experience.”
Come and create your own Namibian adventure, by becoming part of a truly worthy conservation cause, as a Desert Elephant Volunteer. This project takes volunteers to the scenic, tribal area wilderness of the Namib Desert, Damaraland, which runs parallel to the Skeleton Coast National Park.
For elephant-lovers around the world, do something amazing!