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johnweir

"DR. STANDER I PRESUME?", (WANDERINGS IN NAMIBIA), JULY 2018.

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johnweir

In July 2017 we travelled to Namibia for the first time, visiting several locations on the circuit, the highlight of which was a few days spent trekking free roaming desert adapted Black Rhinoceros in The Namib Desert. (see 'A Visit to Desert Rhino Camp, Namibia. July 2017'). We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Namibia but came away feeling there was plenty of unfinished business. I was very much of the opinion that our short excursion into Etosha N.P. had only just scratched the surface of the park and also we were very keen to spend some more time observing desert adapted wildlife. Shortly after we returned in 2017 we made the decision that our wildlife trip for 2018 would be a return trip to Namibia, with the main aim being to observe some more truly desert adapted wildlife, in particular Lions which we knew would not be easy. On this trip we would self drive between most locations rather than fly, an experience which we thoroughly enjoyed, any apprehensions proved unfounded and it gave us a very different perspective on Namibia and her wonderful people, we will certainly self drive again in the future. In 2017 we fell out with British Airways following extensive problems on both the outward and inward flights (via Jo'burg) so this year flew to Amsterdam (from Newcastle) and took the KLM direct flight to Windhoek. (One hour stop in Luanda, Angola both ways). The travelling time was of the same duration as B.A. going out but saved us 3 hours 50 minutes on the return when compared to last year's timetable. This flight is worth considering if you are U.K. or Northern Europe based.

My own research around desert adapted Lion sightings pointed us very much in the direction of the Hoanib River area (Kaokoveld-Skeleton Coast region), I was very aware that following the tragic demise of "The Five Musketeers" of National Geographic 'Vanishing Kings' fame, sightings in the area of Lions had become rare. Amazingly 'Tripadvisor' pointed me in the direction of a visitor to the area who had observed a mature male Lion and a few days later a Lioness with 3 cubs in July 2017. I managed to make contact with her in Italy and she sent me a detailed reply but made the point very strongly that she had been very lucky and that Lion sightings were not common, she had been staying at Wilderness Safaris Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, this camp would therefore be at the centre of our trip planning, although we had taken on board that a Lion sighting was unlikely. For this particular element of the trip we would leave the trusty Ford Ranger at Doro Nawas and flew to and from the camp.

 

Our itinerary was as follows:

 

4th July     Windhoek (1 night).                       Olive Exclusive. (Evening meal at Joe's Beerhouse, good industrial food served in a lively atmosphere).

5-8th          Swakopmund (3)                            Atlantik Sicht Apartments, on the seafront. (Evening meals , The Tug twice and The Jetty, both excellent and reasonably priced).

8th             Twyfelfontein (1)                            Camp Kipwe.

9-12th        Hoanib River Basin (3)                  Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp.

12-14th      Etosha N.P. (2)                                Okaukeujo Rest Camp.

14-16th      East of Etosha (2)                          Mushara Lodge. ( just outside the park).

16-18th      Erongo (2)                                       Erongo Wilderness Lodge.

 

16 night trip, 14 in camps etc. + 2 overnight flights.

 

The plan on arriving in Swakopmund was to spend a few days relaxing exploring the town and it's surroundings and do a couple of wildlife activities, one on each day before heading north. The first activity was supposed to be a full day trip to Sandwich Harbour with an emphasis on birdwatching. However on arrival in Swakopmund, the weather was extremely windy and although we went out it was obvious that conditions were far from ideal, the sea was heavy and the wind was an issue. It was so strong it was virtually impossible to stand up outside our vehicle, changing lenses on the camera also became problematic even inside the vehicle due to the sand particles in the air. (Absolutely convinced now I need a second camera body). The planned picnic lunch was enjoyed covered in sand inside the vehicle and shortly after it was decided to turn back as our guide felt it was getting dangerous. Our guide's bird ID skills were not exactly sharply honed, but that was proving irrelevant as there were so few birds around to identify. Gradually as we returned to Swakopmund the wind began to abate and some photographic opportunities presented themselves. (Weather statistics for the area do indicate that July 2018 was warmer and certainly more windy than one would normally expect based on historic data going back to 2007).

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A lone Cape Cormorant braves the storm.

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High seas.

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It was at this point we decided to turn back and return to Swakopmund.

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It looks quite calm on this image , but believe me it was still very windy, but not as bad as it had been. This gulp of Cape Cormorants was one of several we passed on our return.

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Cape Cormorant. (Same gulp as above). 

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At the salt works near Walvis Bay this Black-backed Jackal was spotted resting, it was very much alive.

 

Thomas Baines in his book 'Explorations in South-West Africa' (1864) described the flocks of Flamingoes in Walvis(ch) Bay as he disembarked to start his epic journey to Lake Ngami and The Victoria Falls.

'Here the dense flocks of pelicans and flamingoes present an appearance that actually led the mate of the vessel to mistake them at first sight for houses; and considering the last named bird, with its white plumage and scarlet wings, stands about four feet in height, I do not wonder at the current stories of their being mistaken for a column of infantry with red jackets and white caps and trowsers'.  

The Flamingos seen in Walvis Bay whilst we were in the area would number possibly around 2,000 with the vast majority being Greater Flamingos. Whilst also present The Lesser Flamingo would make up less than 2% of the total we saw. I would expect that the flocks in Walvis Bay today are significantly smaller than those observed by Baines.

 

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General vista of a regiment of Flamingoes in Walvis Bay. 

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Same regiment, a few Lesser Flamingoes are visible (just), middle of the image to the left of centre, appear to have an almost completely black bill.

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Greater Flamingo. Adult (rear) and juvenile.

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Little Egret, Walvis Bay. Interestingly I was out at Aberlady Bay (near Edinburgh, Scotland) last week and was amazed to see an individual of this species. Their range has apparently become very expansive in recent years.

 

The following morning we were due to visit the dunes around Swakopmund to look for some of the desert's hidden treasures, but due to high winds again the trip was cancelled until the afternoon. We decided to drive down to Walvis Bay, find a regiment and practice shooting Flamingos in flight if possible, so we spent the morning trying to capture a decent image in very difficult conditions, several hundred images and 3 hours later we returned to Swakopmund with limited success.

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Greater Flamingo in flight, one of my better efforts.

 

The dune exploration activity departed about 15.00 and returned at 1830, the wind had dropped and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was well worth doing and we found most of what could be expected under the circumstances.

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Namaqua Chameleon. Our guide was saying that until recently sightings of this Chameleon were virtually guaranteed every trip but now they are becoming quite rare. The decline he blamed on illegal collecting for the pet trade, despite them being notoriously difficult to keep in captivity.

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A great deal has been written on this site about the capabilities of Canon's 100-400mm lens, I would point out it has good macro capabilities too.

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Brings a whole new meaning to the expression, 'Eyes in the back of your head'.

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Typical reptile habitat.

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An unidentified bird I was hoping that @Peter Connan, @michael-ibk, @inyathi, or anyone else might be able to help me with this one.  Because my bird ID skills are limited at present what I tend to do is shoot an image of any unidentified birds no matter how far they are away and then blow the images up on the computer when I get home before deleting them, usually with the aid of a good guide book a successful ID is achieved. I have a few options for this one, but the front runner does not apparently occur in this region. I look forward to your deliberations gentlemen.

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Reticulated Sand Lizard.

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Tractrac Chat in flight, not a very natural shot as the bird was attracted by the provision of mealworms, not really our sort of thing.

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Spot the Sidewinder. (Peringuey's Adder). How the guide located this we will never know.

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Sidewinder on the move, showing the classic movement patterns in the sand.

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Sidewinder, burrowing back into the sand, it was virtually invisible again in seconds.

We also saw (I was not able to get an image) a Shovel-snouted Lizard, which is famed for it's 'thermal dance', in the heat of the day they raise their tail and two feet alternatively to prevent overheating on the red hot sand, they are usually seen in most desert documentaries. We were also hoping to see some scorpions but none were located. 

 

Baines (1864) shortly after leaving for the interior comments on the wildlife in the area, 'Tracks of giraffes and rhinoceroses had been seen, and in one place the spoor of as many as eighteen lions. Indeed in some parts it was not safe to dismount from the wagon at night, and on one occasion a traveller had encountered a number of these beasts sitting across his track, awaiting his approach, and by no means inclined to get out of his way'.

How things have changed, we would need to travel much further north to get any chance of a Lion sighting, if at all.

 

TO BE CONTINUED.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Ginny

Very interesting commentary and photographs...especially the Namaqua lizard and the sidewinder. Hope you find the lions.?

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The_Norwegian

Great stuff, looking forward to the rest! I would say your mysterybird is a yellow-throated petronia.. :-)

Edited by The_Norwegian

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Peter Connan

Looks like a Petronia, except the distribution and habitat are completely wrong.

 

I suspect it is a Lark, perhaps a female Black-eared Sparrowlark or a Red-capped Lark?

Edited by Peter Connan

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ForWildlife

Not a red-capped lark. Looks more like a sparrow or sparrow-lark to me. Female black-eared sparrowlard might be correct.

 

The title very much caught my attention! Looking forward to the rest, but beautiful start!

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michael-ibk

Great pictures, I will enjoy following this report! I agree that the bill does not really look like it belongs to a Lark but I wouldn´t dare exclude them, all this Lark-Pipit-Cisticola-Whydah stuff is way over my head. Black-Eared Sparrowlark looks pretty similar indeed, but should not occur in that area, and I do think the supercilium (extending down to the nape) is too long and clear for that bird. Hm, a Yellow-Throated Petronia far from home? But outside its normal distribution and habitat all wrong, so probably not, also leg colour does not really fit. Pf, looks like a good place for Lark-Like Bunting. Am not entirely happy with it but that bird can be pretty variable so probably my best bet.

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Kitsafari

Slowly enjoying this trip with you JOhn. I would hate to walk around on the sand, just in case that sidewinder is hiding somewhere and I unknowingly put my foot down on it.  

 

I do love that first photo of the cormorant all alone in the storm. 

 

 

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inyathi

I'm confident that the mystery bird is not a lark, the bill is as stated wrong for a lark, in my view it is most probably as suggested by @michael-ibk  a lark-like bunting, this is the only candidate that in my view has both the right distribution and appearance, some of the books illustrate a rather paler bird, this could be due to the fact that the birds are quite variable or it could just be that the illustrations aren't as good as they could be, photos online seem to show darker birds more like yours than the pale birds shown in the books. 

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xelas

Always happy to read a Namibia trip report, and even happier when one comes with such excellent photos like yours, @johnweir

 

About the bird, experts have spoken, so my vote for Lark-like Bunting does not mean a lot. 

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Big_Dog

A different trip report, and a fascinating one.

Baines wrote about how much we have lost, and it's true. But in it's place something else as interesting has risen; bleak, harsh but beautiful landscapes replacing the usual savannah and bush, with a focus on the smaller side of things in the reptiles and birds. Eager to follow this odyssey.

The description of the jackal as 'very much alive' tickled me also.

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buddy4344

I'm looking forward to your next chapter. I will be returning to Namibia in October and will be spending 4 nights wandering the Hoanib Riverbed and parts further north. I'd love to find the lions in the wild, whether I get the photo or not

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CDL111

Excellent pictures, the first one on the sidewinder must be pleasing. Nice to know l am not alone with lets photograph the bird and then find out what it is. Cannot comment on your question as l do not have a bird book for that country.

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johnweir

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the bird ID debate (#1, image16), greatly appreciated, I envy your skills.

@buddy4344, stay tuned you may find some of the detail interesting, particularly as the trip report develops.

 

On leaving Swakopmund we headed towards Henties Bay stopping just south of the town to photograph one of the many shipwrecks that litter this wonderful coastline. Most of the driving was now on gravel roads, which I enjoyed very much, however our experiences were pretty tame when compared to some of the travellers we met during this trip and the amazing trip reports regularly posted here on Safaritalk, next time in Namibia we will certainly consider a more 'hardcore' trip, I've got one in mind already.

 

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The 'Zeila', a fishing trawler, she ran aground 14km south of Henties Bay in August 2008. She was being towed from Walvis Bay to Mumbai to be broken up when she  came loose from the towing line. She is one of the more recent additions to the growing catalogue of vessels that have run aground on this notorious coast over many years.

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Closer shot, the birds on the masts are White-breasted Cormorants.

 

Leaving Henties Bay the idea was to drive north up the C34 (80km) to visit the seal colony at Cape Cross Reserve, but we decided against it as we both felt uncomfortable visiting a wildlife location which hosts the annual slaughter of around 86,000 Cape Fur Seals, we would in any case visit a Cape Fur Seal colony later in the trip albeit of a much smaller size. I have thought long and hard about including this paragraph in this trip report but felt it was necessary, as it had bothered us both during this particular leg of our journey. In the height of the breeding season up to 210,000 Seals congregate in the reserve (Nov-Dec), that must be a wonderful spectacle. The Namibian Government refers to the cull as 'seal harvesting', each year from July to November 6,000 bulls are shot and 80,000 pups taken from their mothers and clubbed to death. If the cull can be justified on a scientific basis (the data presented on both sides of the argument regarding preserving fish stocks is hotly disputed) then fine but the barbaric method of dispatching the pups cannot be justified in anyway whatsoever. The practice to my way of thinking is a slur on the international reputation of Namibia. (Data taken from Nat. Geo. Sept 2016. 'Cape Fur Trade Remains Shrouded in Secrecy).

 

On a happier note, we enjoyed lunch in Uis a small tin mining town which nestles in the foothills of The 'Brandberg', Namibia's highest peak, we were well away from the coast now and the scenery was simply breathtaking. We were approximately half way to our next camp, Camp Kipwe, Twyfelfontein. We decided to get to the camp as quickly as possible as during trip planning I had only arranged to stay at this camp for one night which on reflection was not a good idea as it was very likely to impact negatively on us being able to track at least one of the herds of desert adapted Elephants for which the camp and region are famous. We arrived at the camp at 14.00 having travelled 328km in 4.5 hours (driving time).

 

The Elephant tracking activity at Camp Kipwe goes out in the morning around 08.00 and lasts between 4 and 6 hours, however as our flight from Doro Nawas  to Hoanib was at 11.30 it was impossible for us to participate in the activity the following morning and be sure to make our flight. The camp Manageress was very sympathetic to our plight and realising just how keen we were to observe d/a Elephants agreed to put on a special game drive for us if we could be ready at 15.00, of course we could. (It did come as an extra but was reasonably priced for a private game drive). Before heading out we visited our room and I acquainted myself with some of the resident fauna.

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A beautiful specimen of Boulton's Namib Day Gecko was found in the bathroom. They are quite large geckoes this one was about 12cm in length, there were also several very nervous Namib Rock Agama Lizards to help keep the insect population down, not an issue at this camp.

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 The sleeping accommodation was very tastefully built into the spectacular landscape and was of a high quality and very spacious.

 

So off we set, we drove for about 1.5 hours before our guide picked up the fresh tracks of several adult Elephants, we spent most of the trip driving in and around the riverbed of the Aba Huab River (tributary of the larger Huab River) which was completely dry, it did support lots of shrubs and trees which were amazingly green. The very thin strip of savannah in and around the river consisted of very dry quite long grass as can be seen in several of the following images. 

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 Several Ludwig's Bustards were seen as we searched for the Elephants and away from the riverbed we encountered a group of Common Ostrich.

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Eventually dropping back into the flood plain we had our first sighting of some desert adapted Elephants, 8 adults/subadults and one calf.The following information is taken from a conversation I had with our guide, there are estimated to be around 800 d/a Elephants in Namibia. (Small population also found in Mali). In this conservancy there are 60 individuals in several small herds of various sizes. The herd we had just located consisted of 22 members when all were present, so most were feeding and socialising elsewhere. Mature males tend to be solitary, or just about tolerate each other in small groups. Water was available in the area but we saw none, it is used by the Elephants for drinking only. Little damage has been done to the trees and shrubs in the conservancy by the Elephants. Poaching is not an issue at present most of the Elephants have small tusks or none at all, we did however see a couple with medium sized tusks.

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Our initial sighting, note the fantastic desert background. I regard this population of Elephants as semi-desert adapted as the habitat in which they live is nowhere near as challenging or harsh as that we were to see and enjoy so much later in the trip. Desert adapted Elephants were at one time considered a separate subspecies but today are acknowledged as being exactly the same species as those living throughout the savannah regions of Africa. 

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Several members of the herd protect the calf, mother central. The calf was a male and was very active during our visit causing mayhem running away from it's mother and needing lots of supervision from other herd members, there was definitely a collective responsibility for his welfare. Although we got very close to the Elephants they remained calm throughout or visit.

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This is a relatively large individual but I am of the opinion that this population and those seen elsewhere that live in desert conditions tend to be smaller than Elephants living elsewhere. i.e Etosha, they are giants and are not classified as desert adapted.

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Another quite large individual which showed a great deal of interest in our presence, but was clearly not concerned.

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Two juveniles flex their muscles, possibly males.

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The whole group moves on, the calf appears to be absent without leave but he did turn up later. They are heading towards a narrowing of the valley, we managed to get ahead of them, when they arrived we were very close to them but as previously mentioned they remained calm, they are I would think used to regular visitors.

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One of the younger members of the herd.

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The calf with his mother.

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The star of the show. This was the last image of the herd I took, we had been with them for 45 minutes so we decided to leave them in peace and head back to camp.

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On our way back to camp, about 4 miles from the first herd, we came across 5 more Elephants these are members of a different herd, which is a relatively small one with 12 members.

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This Grey Go-Away-Bird was seen close to camp as we returned, the area generally appeared to be very good for birding. The light was starting to become a problem at this stage.

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Around camp was ideal habitat for Hyrax, however they were rarely seen and when they were they vanished in a flash, so I only really got one go at an image. These are Cape Rock Hyrax (the nominate form) and have a black dorsal blotch, the ones I photographed in Namibia last year at Ongava had a cream dorsal patch so were a different subspecies, The Kaokoveld Rock Hyrax.

We returned to camp at around 18.00 having spent a wonderful afternoon in the company of an excellent guide and 'his' Elephants.

On return to camp we learned it is an evening tradition to enjoy a drink whilst watching the sunset from a bar area which is situated high above the camp, we were happy to oblige.

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A view across the flood plain in front of camp as the light starts to fade.

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10 minutes later.

When We got back to our chalet, another Gecko species had decided to join us.

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This one is a Turner's Gecko. (Special thanks to Tyrone Ping, (South Africa.), who took the time to identify some of my reptile images taken on this trip).

 

Camp Kipwe was an outstanding camp in every respect, well appointed, very comfortable, beautifully situated, the staff could not have been more helpful and the food was possibly the best we have enjoyed so far on our travels. We could have stayed for longer, however this is really a one species camp, although there are lots of interesting none wildlife places to visit in the immediate area. Most camps in the area presumably track the same herds of Elephants so I am not sure how busy it might get in the mornings? We were lucky as things turned out we had the Elephants to ourselves.

 

The following morning we left camp at 08.30 and managed to squeeze in a visit to Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site (2007), as the first visitors of the day we got the full guided package delivered at breakneck speed. It was a wonderful experience and very much reminded us of Newspaper Rock. Canyonlands N.P., Utah, although I believe the San Bushmen engravings at Twyfelfontein were done very much earlier, possibly up to 4,000 years earlier.

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 One of the many rock faces covered with mainly wildlife petroglyphs.

As we left I managed to get an image of this curious rodent which I had already seen several times fleetingly.

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It is in fact a Dassie Rat, not to be confused with a Rock Hyrax which are often nicknamed 'Dassies.' (However they are often found in association with Hyrax). They are quite big and including their tail can grow up to around 38cm, they are the only living member of their family and are found in Namibia, the Northern Cape and SW Angola.

 

Leaving Twyfelfontein we then drove for 30 minutes to Doro Nawas to catch our flight to Hoanib.

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CDL111

@johnweir, l presume that one of the reasons that people can get close to the elephants is that there is no poaching or killing for food, and therefore the elephants have no bad memories of humans. Interesting comment of desert and semi desert herds. 

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buddy4344

Enjoyable read continues. Excellent elephant sighting. On my July trip to the Hoanib riverbed, we spent all day searching and only found one bull. My guide had warned me that recent sightings implied 'our elephants' had moved further down the riverbed into the Skeleton Coast region. That was a slight disappointment for me but I will get another chance in October when I return to the region.

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Kitsafari

wonderful sighting of the elephants! and the photos of the landscape are stunning. 

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xelas
On 9/10/2018 at 2:45 PM, johnweir said:

next time in Namibia we will certainly consider a more 'hardcore' trip, I've got one in mind already.

 

Thinking of a camping-only trip?! More excellent photos, great to have an expert at hand. Those geckos are so photogenic but I am always at lost when tried to ID them :unsure:.

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CDL111

@xelas, try www.the-eis.com. This shows Geckos  of Namibia.

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johnweir

We left our vehicle at Doro Nawas Camp and they delivered us to the airstrip, we had been here before when we visited Desert Rhino Camp last year, the flight to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp took about an hour. Why it is called Skeleton Coast Camp I do not know as it is about 30 miles from the coast. We were the only passengers on the flight out, the aircraft could carry 12, (private plane at last!) with the exception of one guy and his huge tool box (if you pardon the expression) who was going to service the plane during its overnight stay at Hoanib.Some of the geological features seen during the flight were familiar from last year, with the exception of the last 30 minutes. As we came in to land we flew over the camp and got a great view of the Hoanib River which was completely dry.  First impressions were that we were indeed in a true desert environment and that this was going to be a fantastic wildlife adventure, the scenery was magnificent and so very different to the usual safari backdrop.

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Flying over the Northern Namib Desert is always a spectacular experience.

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The Hoanib Riverbed, only flows for a few days annually, note the vegetation it supports , which in turn supports the wildlife. As you leave the riverbed the environment becomes more severe.

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An aerial shot of the camp. The larger tented area at the centre is the social area, dining etc. The first tent to the right of that is the facility provided for the research projects. The 3 tents to the right of that and the 5 to the left of the main area are the client accommodation. The tents top right are staff accommodation, we ate up there one night, a long story. Behind the solar panels (left of the image) 6 large vehicles are parked, it is heavy plant as they are due to start a new runway soon.

 

The architecture of the camp I can imagine would not be to everyone's liking but I found it tasteful and thought it blended in very well with it's desert surroundings, the tents etc. are very reminiscent of Berber tents which were very common in North Africa at one time.  We feel very fortunate to have been able to to experience The Namib Desert from such an isolated camp. The camp was excellent in every respect and Wilderness Safaris are undoubtedly making a very tangible contribution to conservation in the area, last year at Desert Rhino Camp their support for 'Save the Rhino" was hugely impressive , at this camp they are heavily involved with 'Desert Lion Conservation' and a Brown Hyena research project. Their support to both projects is very visible and meaningful. 99.9% of guests fly in to camp but you can apparently drive to a pick up point outside the conservancy.

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The main social and dining area. Incidentally the food was pretty good too.

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This is the facility provided free of charge for the Desert Lion and Brown Hyena research groups, inside there is a small lecture room and office space.

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This was taken as we unpacked in our tent 30 minutes after arrival. The Giraffe here are Southern Giraffe, subspecies G. giraffa angolensis , Angolan Giraffe. Two large male Elephants also arrived to drink. I am fairly sure the waterhole is man made.  A Lion has been recorded at the waterhole but not for several years and there is an active camera trap in place.

 

After we had settled in we had a long conversation with our guide Michael about what we wanted to get out of the next few days, our main priority was to try for a desert adapted Lion sighting. I pointed out to him that we knew it was unlikely but nevertheless wanted him to give it his best shot. As luck would have it camp was not at full capacity and the other clients had all booked private vehicles, hence we got one free of charge, which was a real bonus as it meant we could dictate the agenda to suit our needs. On our second full day as we were staying 3 nights we were due to take a full day excursion to the coast, I made it clear to Michael that we would prefer to search for d/a Lions if as expected we had not seen any up to that point, that was agreed. He expressed the view that a Lion sighting was not going to be easy and that none had been seen in the area for several weeks, that was until 4 days before our arrival when 2 had taken down an Oryx about 3 miles from camp, and had been seen regularly around the kill since, although that morning they had not been there, just our luck.

Another thing I was keen to do as I knew he had a base at camp was have a conversation with Dr. Philip Stander the renowned Lion (Desert Lion) expert who came to my attention several years ago and more recently who's work featured in a Nat. Geo. Special 'Vanishing Kings' which we had watched several times, the film highlighted the fortunes of 5 male Lions (The Five Musketeers), who were seen by many as being crucial to the long term survival of this critically endangered subset of Lions. The film ended on a reasonably optimistic note  but following an incident of human-Lion conflict all 5 Lions were either shot or poisoned during 2017. Michael pointed out that 'Flip' was very rarely in camp and was away in the field at present and that a meeting was highly unlikely. His partner Emsie Verwey was in camp and would be giving a lecture on her work with Brown Hyena the following afternoon so she would be able to answer our questions.

 

We left camp at 16.00 and headed straight to the location of the Oryx kill, it took about 30 minutes across a sandy plain before we approached the course of the Hoanib River, which supports a wealth of vital vegetation (shrubs and trees), away from the river there is no vegetation at all, just mountains and sand. When flash floods occasionally occur the river runs for a very short period often very impressively and some of the water finds its way underground, this is vital to the flora and fauna of the area, the river had run in spate in 2018, a rare event. As we approached the river Michael slowed down and pointed to a large shrub to our left, it was just possible to make out at the back of the bush the remains of an Oryx, head and ribcage only. About 10 metres away from the carcass lying down in the late afternoon sun were 2 Lions, both female, a mature adult and a sub-adult. We parked up perhaps 20 yards away from them and just sat and watched them sleeping for 90 minutes before returning to camp.  In fact on the occasions we saw the Lions we never saw them in action apart from taking the odd comfort break, it didn't matter to us at all just to be able to observe them was what we had come for. We couldn't believe our luck and still can't, this experience is one of the highlights of our wildlife viewing so far, I don't  think personally I realised just how important a sighting would be to me until it actually happened, obviously I must be a wild cat sort of guy.

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As seen on arrival, the mature Lioness on the left is Xpl 69 and the sub-adult is 'Charlie', both have very interesting histories which I will try not to over complicate. The Oryx kill can be seen, what remains of it, under the shrub.

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Xpl 69, this is one hell of a Lion, she is about 10 years old, she is the daughter of 'The Queen'  the Lioness that Dr. Stander studied for 17 years from birth to death and who played such a significant role in desert adapted Lion survival. Xpl 69 like her mother is a Giraffe specialist, she is capable of taking down a medium sized specimen on her own. She was also the mother to 2 of 'The Five Musketeers'.  

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This is 'Charlie' and here things do get complicated, she is just over 2 years old and was one of 4 cubs (all female) in the 2nd litter of Xpl 55. (Xpl 55's first litter produced one male cub 'Tullamore' one of the 'Musketeers' and the last to be illegally killed). One of the 4 cubs died in a flash flood and then their mother Xpl 55 died when the cubs were 11 months old from her injuries received following a fight with a Leopard which was killed. The 3 orphaned, cubs made their way towards the coast, found a freshwater oasis and unbelievably managed to survive on Cormorants and other waterbirds before moving to the coast and killing seals. The 3 eventually met up with Xpl 69 and initially relationships were strained, however eventually relationships improved and Xpl 69 allowed the youngsters to feed at her kills. Xpl 69 & 55 were related possibly as cousins, the genealogy of this famous pride is rather complicated. They moved inland but 2 of the cubs returned to the coast where they are still today and doing very well. 'Charlie' stayed with Xpl 69 before spending some time on her own during which time her body condition deteriorated badly. Fortunately she is now re-united with Xpl 69. We were very concerned when we first saw 'Charlie' she appeared very thin with her ribs and spine visible. However she had fed well on this kill and Michael thought she looked to be in much better condition.

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A better view of the kill. Genetically desert adapted Lions are identical to those found elsewhere in Namibia and the rest of Southern and Eastern Africa. Some would suggest they are smaller, lighter in colour, have longer legs, need less water and have thicker fur than their relatives elsewhere. I can only go by Xpl 69, she did look smaller than a similar Lion in say Etosha. I have also read cub mortality is lower and that they live longer than in other parts of their range. They were once thought to be extinct, current numbers range between 85 and 180 depending on which source you use. What is not in dispute is that they have adapted to live in one of the harshest environments on the planet very successfully. The Lions of Etosha are not regarded as being desert adapted. 

5H1A3222.jpg.1dfc9f5479f2168730e78ac244c5c5a6.jpgCharlie decides to eat, there was very little if anything left on the carcass.

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Possibly a few scraps.

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Xpl 69's front paw about life size.

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A final image of Xpl 69 before we headed back to camp.

 

The following day we went out at 07.00, I was very tempted to head straight back to the kill, but we needed to explore the wider region more fully, so we decided to follow the riverbed towards the coast and see what developed. The riverbed acts as a bit of a highway and we passed a couple of vehicles making their way towards the conservancy although they would not be allowed to enter. One Dutch family we met had visited the area several times over the years particularly to see d/a Lions but as yet had not been successful.

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Giraffe were relatively common as we headed down the riverbed, in groups and on their own.

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This particular specimen has obviously been acquainted with d/a Lions, possibly Xpl 69 'The Giraffe Hunter', hence a greatly shortened tail.

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 Typical landscape close to the riverbed.

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A troop of Chacma Baboons photographed from a considerable distance. They were very much darker, than those we have seen elsewhere, almost black. 

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Some Oryx  (Gemsbok) were seen in relatively small numbers both in the riverbed and out in the open desert.

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This was our first sighting away from camp of some truly desert adapted Elephants. There is a long term monitoring project currently taking place on this herd (lower Hoanib River) focusing on its demography, genetics and social organisation. The herd is 16+ strong, all those seen on this particular part of the drive were females or young males.

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A couple from the same herd giving a better idea of the general habitat.

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"Don't do that again or else". A mother offers some guidance!

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This is 'Kinky-tail' for obvious reasons. She was feeding when a bird got her seriously agitated, she then turned and chased our vehicle for about 50 yards down the riverbed. It was the first time Michael had seen her behave aggressively ever.

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Not the most inspiring of shots but was taken from the middle of the riverbed and gives an impression of the general habitat. We stopped here at 10.00 for a break before heading back to camp.

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A typical mature female Elephant found in the region, I believe them to be generally smaller than those found in savanna conditions. The Giraffe and Elephants found in this region are as with the Lions classified as being desert adapted. I suppose they could also be classified as free roaming, a characteristic that certainly has had a lethal effect on Lion numbers. 

 

More to follow!

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CDL111

Enjoying reading this section with regard to the Namib Desert, to be able to have a vehicle to yourselves and a guide who obviously is knowledgeable of the area, must have been pleasurable. As lion sightings are rare, do you know if they have managed to tag what lions they have seen?

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Antee

Lovely! 

I was in the area by myself this summer and got som flashbacks with your nice pictures.

 

A truly remarkable place on earth!

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AKR1

Excellent report. Particularly enjoyed the Hoabib camp section. I wonder how this compares to Wilderness Safari’s original Skeleton coast camp that was on my list but unfortunately burned down before I could visit. That was very close to the coast and the folks I know who had been there raved about it. This camp as you said is 30 miles and several hours drive from the coast. It looks wonderful and the few people I know who have been there confirm it’s top notch as you do ( so far) on the first full day of your visit. I don’t know anyone who has been to both the earlier camp and this one. 

Thanks for  sharing your report and beautiful pictures. Look forward to more. 

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johnweir

@CDL111, Most of the known Desert Adapted Lions in the North West of Namibia have been tagged by 'Desert Lion Conservation', who also routinely ensure that collars are serviced. Following the tragic demise of the 'Five Musketeers', some good did come out of bad, following a worldwide outcry against the killings. The Namibian Government appear to have at last realised that this unique subset of Lions, the only desert adapted Lions in Africa, are a national treasure worthy of saving. Just about everyone we met in the area were visiting in the hope of a Lion sighting, it was also the main reason we visited the area. In September 2017 following the deaths, a management plan was published in an attempt to improve how Human-Lion conflict is addressed. Although I have not as yet seen a copy, I should have one before I finish my trip report and be in a position to comment if necessary, although I have a very good idea of some of the recommendations, which appear to be being implemented already. 

The Lions are currently being tagged in two different ways, firstly those individuals that don't pose a problem are been given a standard GPS collar which relays data regularly to a central server for analysis, indicating movement trends etc.

The more troublesome Lions are being fitted with an early warning collar (significantly more expensive, gives GPS readings too), which triggers an alarm system when the Lion approaches a fixed sensor. Tests are apparently giving good results and residents have been able to move livestock to safer areas/facilities when an advanced warning has been triggered. I think that at the moment only 2 early warning systems have been installed in conflict hotspots, with more planned for the future.

In January 2018 Xpl-110 (male) was responsible for killing 172 (yes 172) sheep when it successfully entered a makeshift corral in the Brandberg area. It was also seen on several occasions around The White Lady Lodge and a local petroglyph site, thus it was deemed a danger to human life. In July 2018 it was darted and moved to the coast, two weeks later it was back in the Brandberg area. It's future as I write is uncertain.

Another mature male had also been behaving in an unusually aggressive manner around Purros and killing livestock, he was translocated but has also returned to his original capture site. As of July 2018 his collar has gone silent, could just be a malfunction? It is not hard to see why Lions are persecuted in this region.

So plenty of hard work is going on to try to minimise, Human-Lion conflict and resolve incidents without hopefully the offending Lion being killed. Leading these initiatives as he has done for 17 years is Dr. Philip Stander, whom I was hoping to meet as he is undoubtedly one of my wildlife/conservation heroes, but realised it was highly unlikely.

@Antee, Couldn't agree more the area is simply spectacular and the wildlife that call it home are truly remarkable. We will revisit at some stage and spend more time in various other parts of the region.

@AKR1, Yes a top camp in every respect, have heard complaints about lack of WiFi (which was a bonus to us) and the lack of wildlife? Not entirely sure what some people expect from a true wilderness location in one of the harshest environments on the planet.  

 

Will post some more soon, in preparation.

 

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johnweir

Having spent time with the herd of true desert adapted Elephants we decided to head back to camp for a late lunch and then go out early for our evening drive and revisit the Oryx kill site and hopefully see the two Lions again  We had already decided that the following day we would go on the full day trip to the coast. Heading back to camp following the riverbed it passed through a narrow section and members of the Elephant herd we had seen earlier were blocking our way forward, and appeared distressed as we approached.  The image below was taken during our approach.

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Michael (our guide) therefore drove over the mound to the left into a parallel channel and immediately we became aware that another vehicle was heading towards us, it was the unmistakeable vehicle used by Dr. Philip Stander from which he delivers his outstanding work to conserve the Desert Lion. He virtually lives full time in the vehicle. As he approached Michael waved, he had done some dart and collar work with Philip in the past. The battered enigmatic Land Cruiser ground to a halt and out jumped , 'The Doctor'. We talked to him for about 15 minutes before he excused himself as he was on his way to hopefully resolve a Human-Lion conflict situation which had developed overnight. He was very interested in how the World Cup was developing, clearly an England supporter. I was delighted to get some time to speak with him and managed to avoid uttering the immortal words 'Dr. Stander I presume?', although I was tempted. It was amazing to see his field notes written on his arms and legs, they would be transferred at some stage to his extensive data base and records. There can be little doubt that without the fantastic work of he has done over the last 17+ years, the Desert Lions of Namibia would now be extinct.

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This encounter made our trip. 'The Doctor" was extremely easy to talk to and the main points from our short conversation were as follows:

The long term future of the Desert Lions he felt very much lies in wildlife tourism. Some good had come out of the deaths of 'The 5 Musketeers', the government had now become far more focused and committed to resolving Human-Lion Conflict in order to prevent unnecessary Lion deaths. Xpl-69 was in excellent condition and that I should not expect similar body condition to that found on savannah Lions. 'Charlie' now she was back with her 'Aunt' would have every chance of reaching adulthood, despite my concerns about her poor body condition she had already shown significant signs of weight gain, and finally that he was very optimistic about the future of Desert Lions. Then as quickly as he appeared he was off in a cloud of dust. Some man.

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As we continued on our way back to camp this baby Chacma Baboon was spotted in a tree. it seemed very strange in this desert environment.5H1A3486.jpg.864bb488b039dbeee811ab2233dd9166.jpg

Another Angolan Giraffe with her youngster, it was the first time we had ever seen a Giraffe sat down.

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Further up the riverbed we came across one of the two male Elephants that serve the herd we had seen earlier. This is 'Oliver' he was born in 1996, he is not the dominant male.

 

After lunch we attended a lecture in camp given by Emsie Verwey (Philip's partner) who is doing field work on the Brown Hyena. It was very interesting and included some wonderful images. We talked briefly about the devastating effect the deaths of the 5 young Lions must have had on Philip, which it did, but that he was resilient and thank goodness had the strength of mind and body to continue his life's work.

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We couldn't resist going back for one last time, they were still there and still sleeping. A day later they were seen heading for the mountains. 

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Xpl-69 momentarily decided to get up  but then decided to sit down again. As I have already mentioned she may look frail but is indeed a formidable hunter.

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As seen for the last time.

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The last sighting of 'Charlie', good luck. We will monitor her progress in the years ahead.

Just as we left the lions an antelope was spotted close by it was a Kalahari Steenbok.

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On seeing us it promptly sat down.

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The image below reflects the typical precipitous nature of the river banks as highlighted by so many documentaries particularly when flash floods occur and the banks and the vegetation collapse into the violent flow of the river. March/April of this year saw such conditions. The Hoanib River nearly reached the sea.

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Once inside the riverbed we quickly located a male Elephant, it was 'Oliver' again, he was feeding and then climbed up a shallow bank into the dunes.

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The great thing about this location is that you see familiar safari animals in unfamiliar surroundings, which we found fascinating and very interesting and it made a change from our usual savannah habitats. 

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Eventually he returned to the riverbed,

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and vanished into the distance. We had a sundowner and (I hardly dare mention this because I'm always complaining about people's lack of capacity to disconnect from the modern world), returned to camp to watch the World Cup on TV with the staff in their canteen. We had our meal with them and then had several beers, the result wasn't too good however. It was an  evening we will never forget they were great company, at breakfast very early the following morning , the rest of the guests in camp were amazed.

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Coast trip, next.

 

  

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ForWildlife

Very cool to meet the man himself! He's getting so much unfair critics lately, it makes me sick. From people who would have never known about desert lions if it wasn't for him, and don't realize there is a very good chance there wouldn't be any now if it wasn't for him, and don't realize nobody is more passionate about these lions than him. He must have had a few very hard and frustrating years. In fact, I know he does.

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