If you stay at Twyfelfontein Country Lodge in Kunene (Damaraland), Namibia, there’s lots to see and do in the area – like the Organ Pipes, Twyfelfontein engravings, Petrified Forest and Damara Living Museum. You can read more about the lodge and sights in my blog post here. But whatever you do, don’t miss a nature drive to see desert elephants.
There are fairy circles to admire too – perfectly symmetrical bare circles of one to three metres in diameter, inside of which not a blade of grass grows. Various theories have been suggested for these intriguing formations, from the romantic (fairies) to the ridiculous (UFOs), but the real reason is termites. You can read more about them in my blog post NamibRand: fairy circles and dark skies.
But now it was after 17:00. We’d been moving for 90 minutes and I was beginning to despair of finding any desert elephants before dark. Then we spotted fresh tracks and fresh dung. Excitement mounted in a chase against the fading light. We bounced around the same area twice in the vehicle, finally clapping eyes on six of them feeding on dried branches with a loud crackling noise.
Desert elephant adaptations
We may call them desert elephants, which occur only in Namibia and Mali in North Africa, but they are not a subspecies of the normal African elephant we know from Etosha or Chobe national parks. More correctly, we should refer to them as desert-adapted elephants because they’ve developed some ingenious adaptations to survive in this harsh and arid environment.
- They rarely push over trees as they do elsewhere, preferring to be able to return to them as a source of nutrition. Instead, they just break off branches.
- They usually keep to small family groups rather than big herds, to maximise their chances of finding enough food.
- They have less bulky bodies, possibly from less food than other elephants.
- They have wider feet that help them to walk in the soft sand, in much the same way as deflating your 4x4’s tyres to give a larger surface in contact with the sand helps you not to get stuck.
- They can walk up to 200km in 24 hours in their search for water.
- Unlike other elephants, which can drink as much as 160 litres of water every single day, desert-adapted elephants in Namibia drink only every three to four days.
- They can store water in what is called a pharyngeal pouch behind the base of their tongues. This holds a whopping 7 to 14 litres of water, allowing them to travel greater distances to the next source of water. They use the tip of their trunk to get to it, and will share it with calves on long journeys. Although all African elephants have this pouch, it’s rarely used when water is easy to find.
What a thrill to see some of these resourceful creatures.
After all the excitement of seeing desert-adapted elephants, Lukas stopped on a dune so we could watch the sunset and enjoy sundowners before starting the long drive back to the lodge.
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Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, Namibia: 8 reasons to visit
Highlights of Damaraland and Kaokoveld, Namibia
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