Lions and Rainbows
By Allie Cerretani (University of Vermont ’15)
After crushing Sesfontein conservancy, we headed back home to Wereldsend for a much needed break. On our drive back, we decided to break for lunch under a shady tree in the Hoanib river bed, but as we approached the tree Vehi had planned for our lunch we noticed there were three elephants hanging out underneath of it, including one baby! It was our first baby elephant sighting, so we were all more than a little bit excited. We let the elephants have the tree and continued on our way to find another spot to stop for lunch. We couldn’t make it all the way back to Wereldsend in one day, so we stopped at Ongongo campsite in Anabeb conservancy for a night. The campsite’s swimming hole, complete with ledges to jump off of and a beautiful little waterfall, was a welcome sight. We splashed around for about an hour and made friends with the camp’s resident cat, whom we dubbed Baharukwa (“fantastic” in Otjiherero), or Baha for short.
We hit the road again the next morning after a brief bout of birding at the swimming hole. Before heading back home, we were fortunate enough to stop at a Himba village and learn a little bit about their culture. Vehi gave us a history lesson about the Himba people, then we got to ask the members of the village some questions. Some of the women showed us how they apply the ochre they put on their skin for sun protection and how to make the perfume they wear from the Commiphora wildii plant. We also had the chance to purchase some of their awesome homemade crafts. We then continued our journey back to base camp. Just before crossing the gate that separates Torra conservancy and Palmwag concession, immediately outside Wereldsend, poor old Hardy Sue got a flat tire. We were so close to home we could taste it, but the bush clearly had one more challenge for us before we could rest. We fixed up Hardy Sue and drove the last kilometer or so home.
We spent our next two rest days reading assigned articles, having discussions and working on our project proposals. Molly and I retrieved the camera trap memory cards from Wereldsend, Jebico, and Collins springs and organized the photos. We captured pictures of a ton of animals this time around, including black-backed jackals, hyenas, a giraffe, a porcupine, and at least three different lions! We were super pumped to see something besides a million zebra (although we do still love them).
On April 3rd we left bright and early for Etosha National Park. On our way there we stopped in the town of Outjo for about half a day to get the trucks serviced. We spent our time using the free wifi in a little German bakery to contact home, and eating all the goodies in said bakery. We reached the Etosha gate just in time for sunset. We were giddy with excitement for our first Etosha game drive the next day, and being awoken in the middle of the night by roaring lions heightened our anticipation.
We rolled out at 7 am the next morning, all six of us smooshed ourselves into Hardy Sue, and spent the whole day viewing all different species up close and personal. We had the pleasure of seeing several herds of black-faced impala, one of Namibia’s most charismatic endemic species. We saw red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, black rhinos, oryx, springbok, a spotted hyena that ran across the road right in front of our truck, and a lion way in the distance. We were heading back to camp filled to the brim with images of wildlife, when we noticed a caravan of cars had stopped on the side of the road. We paused to behold a pride of twelve lions seemingly stalking an ostrich in the distance. There were two adult males with huge, beautiful manes, and a lioness was leading their approach to the ostrich. Just when we thought the moment couldn’t get any cooler, a rainstorm in the distance produced a magnificent rainbow right behind the pride. We were awestruck. We went to bed that night with images of majestic lions dancing in our heads and awoke the next morning pumped to take on another game drive.
We spent the majority of the next morning watching baby plains zebra trot after their waiting parents and having a dance party to Katy Perry and Gangnam Style in the back of the truck. We also got to see baby oryx, which look more like baby cows than anything else. We arrived back at Okaukuejo for lunch, threw a Frisbee around in camp for a bit, then cooled off in the pool before Vehi and Bekah took us on a natural history walk around camp. We then met up with Marthin Kasaona, an MET scientist working at Okaukuejo, who showed us around the main office there. He took us to a room filled entirely with the skulls and other bones of animals that passed away in Etosha, whether it was of natural causes or not. We were fascinated by the skulls of ungulates with abnormal or mutated horns, and animals that had gotten their horns locked together while fighting and died that way. Marthin taught us about the use fire has in controlling vegetation in Etosha and about different research projects that have taken place inside the park. He also took us to the laboratory where blood and tissue samples of different species are stored, and where various whole animals are kept in a freezer for research. As he handed us frozen pythons, guinea fowl, and monitor lizards to examine, Kim exclaimed that it “feels like Christmas!” and it did indeed.
Needless to say, we all began fantasizing what an awesome opportunity it would be to conduct research in Etosha National Park. Marthin joined us for dinner and recounted stories of foolish tourists who, in the excitement and splendor of being in Namibia, put their own well-being at risk. It made us all grateful to be involved in a program such as RRCS and to have someone like Marthin to talk to, because we have the opportunity to see what tourists generally don’t and learn about the behind-the-scenes action that takes place in Etosha. All in all, our Etosha “spring break” was an overwhelming success, and we can’t wait to see what Namibia has in store for us next.