Namibian Wildlife Encounters
Head of Worldwide Product, Liz, talks about her spectacular wildlife encounters in Namibia…
For me it was being stalked by a family of white rhinoceros, for Debbie the leopard cub was the star attraction. And we’d all had our hearts melted by the tiny warthog piglet!
Travelling through Namibia in December our group were spoilt for choice – picking the week’s top wildlife encounter was proving difficult as we reminisced about everything we’d seen. This is the ideal time of year to see young animals – babies of all species, shapes and sizes, each one more irresistibly cute than the last!
Fleeting glimpses of zebra, giraffe and various antelope (oryx, kudu, dyrka) in the south paved the way but it was as we arrived in Damaraland that we really started making waves on our species list.
First up was the opportunity to join a guide from EHRA (Elephant Humans Relations Aid) in search of desert adapted elephants. Whilst these are not genetically different to the plains elephants, they are generally slightly smaller in size and have developed larger feet to enable them to thrive in the desert, walking long distances to find water. We didn’t have too far to go to find our herd in the dry Ugab riverbed – a total of 15 elephants including a few young. Our guide was able to identify each one and let us know more about their relationships and history. My initial reaction to my first ever elephant encounter was that they were unexpectedly small – that is, until the larger bull started walking straight towards the jeep! A few days later we encountered a plains elephant in Etosha National Park and I was able to see just how much bigger these are. Regardless of size it was a thrill to meet them in the wild.
Before we reached Etosha a stay at the adjacent Ongava Tented Camp was a real highlight. As we made our way to our luxurious tent on arrival we were treated to the sight of a pride of lions right on the doorstep, making their way to the waterhole which is right in front of the camp. Not only an impressive male and 4 females, but also 2 furry little cubs. It was quite the welcome committee! After dinner this same waterhole was visited by a family of white rhino, with a 5-month old baby who squeaked constantly at his poor mother like an impatient child: “Mum can we go now, Mum, I’m booooored…”. Eventually she took the hint and they trudged off to make way for a thirsty jackal.
It was also at Ongava earlier that day that I’d had my own personal favourite encounter – on a walking safari to find white rhino. First we came close to a couple of young males and then found a family, with a young calf of around 10 months old. Rhino have terrible eyesight but a keen sense of smell. Whilst we were viewing them they’d shown us no interest at all, but as we started to move away they caught our scent and began to follow us – gathering pace to try and catch up. Believe me, looking over your shoulder and seeing 5 bulky rhino stomping along behind you is pretty nerve-wracking! But our guide, the ever-calm and incredibly knowledgeable Michael, led us safely back to the waiting jeep where we drew a collective breath of relief before claiming it to be one of our most exciting wildlife experiences ever!
I wasn’t sure this could be topped, and certainly not on the same trip, but it was just a couple of days later that I found myself tracking leopard at Okonjima. This is the home of the Africat Foundation, who work tirelessly to protect Namibia’s predators through conservation and education. The leopards and cheetahs that roam the 20,000 hectare reserve have been radio collared for research, but finding them is still like searching for a needle in a haystack. Our eagle-eyed guide Mike did however lead us to a female leopard… and she wasn’t alone. We were thrilled to discover a small cub with her, and what a playful little thing he was! He seemed to delight in showing off for us, taking a close look at the jeep, pouncing on his poor mum’s swishing tail and jumping over logs and branches. We were absolutely entranced by his antics and not one of the hundreds of photos I took really captures his mischievous spirit.
At the end of a week in Namibia I had seen – for the first time in my life – a staggering 31 species of mammal, a handful reptiles and countless birds from the hard working weaver bird to the gangly ostrich. It is suggested that the dry season offers better wildlife viewing opportunities than the wetter summer months, but I think our experiences would be hard to beat!