Life in the Desert
November 23, 2013
By Wyatt Mayo (University of Alaska Fairbanks)
This week we headed back up north to finish the last of our game counts in our final conservancy, Omatendeka. I am writing this from the Hoanib River after a day of bumpy roads, hot sun, clouds of dust, and landscapes filled with wildlife. We watched the sun set over the Hoanib from the top of a rocky ridge before sliding down a dune to our campfire in the riverbed. A week ago we left Wereldsend, our home base. We drove out into a landscape no longer unfamiliar to us. The road took us out into the red rock landscape of Torra Conservancy. The trees and shrubs scattered on the hillsides were ones we now know and can identify. The houses and settlements we passed were ones we had visited, reminding us of stories the people had shared with us there. We passed Bersigpost where we had started our first quest for the desert elephants, and continued on to the small village of Bersig to deliver the report from the community survey we had conducted the week before.
In Bersig we were no longer met by the faces of strangers, instead we were met by people we had interviewed, students with whom we had worked in the schools, and children with whom we had played soccer. Here in Namibia every village has a soccer field, some no more than a dusty space with rocks to mark the goal. A group of children were playing soccer on a gravel field in front of the conservancy office, their ball a wad of plastic bags and string covered with an old sock.
In the past week we have driven through all of the five conservancies in which we have been working: Torra, Anabeb, Ehirovipuka, Sesfontein, and Omatendeka. We spent most of the week in Omatendeka finishing up the game-counts. Many of us saw animals we hadn’t seen before, like the large eland antelope and the endemic Damara dik-dik. One of our campsites in southern Omatendeka was close to a hunting camp. We put up our tents near a small waterhole at the edge of a clearing in the mopane woodland. All night animals came to drink. They came from all directions to the small pool of water, a source of life in the desert. The precession began at dusk with the warthogs scuffling across the plain, tails held high in the air as they ran. Mountain zebra came next, cautiously circling in toward the water. The full moon rose orange through the branches of the mopane casting a dim light westward over the desert.
This time we were not separated from the wildlife by a fence as we had been in Etosha National Park. Here we were part of their world, and they part of ours. We could hear an eland coming in the dark, its joints making a characteristic clicking as it walked. Black-backed jackals slipped in and out of the shadows at the edge of our view and springbok and oryx came to drink in herds. That night was filled with sounds, the constant traffic of hoofs on the sand, barking geckos, the calls of crowned plovers flying through the night sky, and the far off whoop of a spotted hyena.
We were all glad to get out and camp in the bush again, after a week at Wereldsend. Here in the bush there is no real need to stick to a schedule. It is impossible to say what the next day will have in store, because it is life in the desert. It may be an impromptu game of soccer with Save the Rhino Trust personnel, on a field of red sand with the setting sun as our clock; or searching for a springbok carcass marked by a sky full of vultures. It is not everyday that you get the chance to play baseball with an oryx horn and rotten tomatoes, or soccer under an African full moon. At times we are coated in dust and have sand dunes forming in our ears. We might spend hours driving through the conservancies, up riverbeds, over rocky passes, or axel deep in sand. One thing that we can be sure of though, is that the day will end around a fire under a sky filling with stars. This is the Namibia that I will remember.