All posts by J Silk

Camp Kwondo

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We had a short drive today, further into the Caprivi Strip.   We stopped early at Camp Kwondo, our accommodation on the Kwondo River.  Our rooms were tents – sort of – thatched roof, wooden floor and canvas walls.  Good thing for the mosquito netting – I didn’t hear any mosquitoes but the only thing between me and a scorpion at the foot of my bed in the morning was the net.

 

There were lovely seating arrangements on decks at the edge of the water and we had time to relax and watch and listen to the abundant bird life.

 

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Hadada Ibis

 

 

 

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Paradise Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

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Red-eyed Bulbul

 

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A pair of Ruppell’s Robins

 

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A Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

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This afternoon we visited a “living museum” so common in Namibia.   The visit answered a lot of my questions about the way of life here.  First we went into a compound and learned how the Bantu people used to live in pre-colonial times.  Their food staple was millet and it was ground to a fine flour.

 

 

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Clay formed by the termites in their hills was used to line the storage container for the millet.

 

 

 

An ingenious device was used to mimic the hippo’s sounds.  The hippo would be eaten at ceremonies such as weddings:

Traditional music and dances with a shaman were performed:

The second part of the visit was to the modern village.  This village has about 300 inhabitants and each compound has a fenced courtyard with the huts of a single clan – children, their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, with each family or couple having their own sleeping quarters.   There are segregated bathroom areas with shower hookups.  Kitchens are partially open air for ventilation and food is cooked over a fire in a communal kitchen.   The government provides a water hand pump for each compound.  School is mandatory and there is a school in each village. In this village, the children walk 2.5 kilometres each way to go to school.  There was one vehicle in the compound.

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Income is earned in a variety of ways – many chop trees on their land and sell firewood for about $1 a bundle.

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We were slated for a boat ride here but as we walked back to the lodge after our tour, lightning streaked the sky and the clap of nearby thunder accompanied us so the ride was cancelled.  Instead we had a rare chance to relax and enjoy the surroundings. We watched flocks of egrets fly up the river at the end of their day.  

 

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The cancelled boat ride had a silver lining.  We were so happy to learn that both Chobe to the east and Mahongo to the west received rain.  It is hoped that eventually the building cumulus clouds will reach Etosha.

 

Best,

Jan

 

 

The Caprivi Strip

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As we learned in Gibralter earlier this year, sometimes a weird bit of geography – the long, thin extension of Namibia that stretches out between Angola and Botswana through to Zambia and Zimbabwe – is formed when competing governments are horse-trading land.  This happened here in Namibia, too – over what became known as the “Caprivi Strip” (recently renamed the Zambezi region).  However, history makes some sense of it.

 

 

Leo von Caprivi (pictured right) was the German politician who succeeded Bismarck as chancellor in 1890.   He struck a deal with Britain, trading the islands of Zanzibar for Heligoland, a group of islands just northwest of Hamburg.  The Germans stipulated that they wanted this little strip of land all the way down in southern Africa because it leads to the Zambezi River which they thought would give them access to the Indian Ocean.  Were they fooled!  Either they didn’t look at a map or visit the area or even consult with anyone local, because a little thing now called Victoria Falls make the Zambezi River completely unnavigable.   Bismarck huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its entire “trousers for a button.”

Whether a strip, or a button, the Caprizi strip makes a nice path for tourists to the Falls.

Chobe River landscape, view from Caprivi Strip on Namibia Botswana border, Africa. Chobe National Park, famous wildlilfe reserve and upscale travel destination.

Looking at this pastoral, lovely countryside, it is hard to imagine that civil war raged here in the 1990’s as a local rebel group, the Caprivi Liberation Army, tried to secede from Namibia.  Life in Africa is complicated, and it is unclear whether this war was the result of side-taking during the war in nearby Congo or a carryover from the Angolan war and the seeds of socialism left by the likes of Che Guevera.

Brendan van Son is a travel blogger more intrepid than I.  Riding his motorbike across Africa, he describes his afternoon on the Caprivi Strip this way:

While driving through Bwabwata National Park, I see a herd
of elephants browsing through the shrubs in the distance.  I
stop, pull out my camera gear and photograph the scene in
awe.  As I pack up my equipment, I hear shuffling behind me.
I twist my head to see a large male elephant walking briskly
towards me.  I race to my scooter and jump on. I’ve left her
running just in case something were to come up; elephants,
zebra, antelope and even lions that can be found along the
strip.  I twist the throttle and toss my head over my shoulder
to see the big elephant is now chasing me down the highway
at full speed.  I’ve learned a couple things today.  My scooter
can outrun a male elephant – though just barely.  I drive off
again laughing hysterically.  Oh, the adventures I have!

I’d say he was lucky that elephant wasn’t an ostrich or a leopard, or he might have been in real trouble!

 The abundant rivers and water make this a green, lovely and productive agricultural area and we we saw small, traditional villages.

Mahango

We drove here on paved Hwy B8 then turned south on asphalt.  Eventually we  veered east again and drove along a sand path.  Every lodge we have come to has involved a road so rough you were sure you were going to sketchy accommdoations, and then you marvel at the beautiful lodge and wonder how it can possibly be provisioned.  This time,  we arrived at a beautiful jungly lodge on the Okahongo River.  We sat on the deck over the River and almost immediately spotted the eyes of hippos in the river and the lodge posts this sign because sometimes the hippos come up at night and eat all of the vegetation on the property.

We went on a stunning game drive this afternoon in the beautiful riverside Mahango Park.  Skulls of the animals in the park were on display at the entrance and we were to see many of the living versions.

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Puffs of clouds hung on the sky and there were beautiful vistas at every turn and we saw a magnificent Baobob tree (for context one of our group stood in front of it).

Mammals and a Reptile

We saw lots of animals, many of them new to us, some of them the most spectular in Africa:

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– The Nam Buffalo (known as “Cape Buffalo” to South Africans).  

 

– Hippos, including a mother and child:

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– the Crocodile

 

We saw many of the ugly cute Warthogs along the water.

We saw new ungulates, in order, the Common Antelope, Roan, Tsetseba and Sable:

We saw Baboons and the Mervet Monkey.  The baby had a little nursing then went into the shrubs to play.

Giraffes, Zebras and Elephants also appeared.  We are in Elephant territory now.

Birds

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– Violet-Breasted Roller

 

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– Little Bee Eater

 

 

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– Swainson’s Spurfowl

 

 

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– The enormous Spare-winged Goose

 

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– Goliath Heron (the largest heron in Africa (see how it dwarfs the ordinary heron next photo)

 

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– Grey Heron

 

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– Egret

 

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– Cape Vulture

 

 

 

 

This morning we had seen the Hammer Cock Bird, here we saw its enormous nest which is the nest for life of a pair of Hammer Cock Birds, and we saw the Jesus Bird.

African Sky

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A lightning storm hung over the sky – it was raining somewhere!

 

 

Our drive ended with a spectacular sunset.

Best,

Jan
PS. No hippos at the lodge overnight!

Etosha II

Our second day at amazing Etosha was equally fruitful.  Overlying everything was the extreme dryness and near-dead shrubbery, but there was still a wide variety of animals and birds in the Park.   

The Birds of Etosha

We saw an amazing array of winged creatures.

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We had seen the Social Weaver’s giant, sagging nests, but here was the (anti-social?) Weaver’s compact little indoor-outdoor nest.

 

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The Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk kept his eye on the landscape from a treetop.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the beautifully marked Northern Black Korhaan stuck to the ground.

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The Double-Banded Courser settled below the surface where the ground was cooler.

 

 

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A pair of Tawny Eagles kept watch together for 360 degree coverage.

 

 

 

 

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An elegant Heron shared the water in a waterhole.

 

 

 

 

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The delicate White-Tailed Shrike stayed on the grass at one of the Park’s resorts.

 

 

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Two Egyptian Geese swam into the reeds of one waterhole.

 

 

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And the country’s largest flying bird, the Kori Bustard, readied for takeoff.

Honey Badger

This tenacious creature did not get its name for its sweetness.  Once he makes his mind up, he will not let go.

Here, he is digging for small rodents and large insects.  Expending the least possible amount of energy, he digs and then reaches deeper and deeper into the burrow.

The Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk typically stays close since its diet is similar and he is waiting for the spoils.  The Badger is not amused.

But the Goshawk will not be intimidated.

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More Ungulates

Some of the many ungulates we have already seen were here.  Repeats are only to capture unique behaviour, including:

A pair of little Steenbok with those oil-painting ears, who mate for life;

A Kudu browsing and a family at a waterhole;

The Oryx, who stand well into the water at the waterhole, a galloping Oryx and an Oryx with a wonky horn, possibly bent in a jousting match;

But we saw a lot of new animals, too, including:

The elegant Impala, easy to identify by the 1-1-1 on their rear;

The majestic Blue Wildebeest;

And the tiny Dik Diks.

Miscellany

A wide assortment of animals were seen in the Park:

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A cheetah in the wild, seen from afar;

 

 

 

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A Black-backed Jackal, always on the prowl at the fringes;


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And the ferocious Mongoose, whom I love because it kills snakes.  It is said that if a Mongoose tries to attack a Black Mamba and is bitten, its digestive system is such that he can immediately eliminate the poison and get right back into the fight.

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A stalwart little Ground Squirrel held his position, guarding his clan in the burrow next to him.

 

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Later, just outside the Park, we ate dinner overlooking the lodge’s waterhole and saw a spotted hyena –

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and a Common Duiker.

Clustered Species

We saw some groupings of a variety of species clustered around a water source, but not by the thousands as in the past because of the drought.  The Park supplies the animals with water, they do not go thirsty.   But the shrubbery and trees most of the animals need to eat are dead or dying, so the animals are hungry.  Many have moved on outside the Park.  When there is a rain, it is hoped most will return.  Still, there were plenty for us to see.

Sunset over Etosha

As the sun went down, we had to say farewell to Etosha, this magical and amazing Namibian treasure.

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Best,

Jan

More than just a long pretty neck

Status:  Not Threatened (in Namibia – population has doubled lately)

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This orphaned giraffe is in northern Kenya nuzzling a caregiver at Sarara Camp, but doesn’t this image say it all about the giraffe?  What love!  Samburu cattle herders found the abandoned calf and alerted Sarara, known for raising orphaned animals and returning them to their habitat.  The young giraffe now lives with a wild herd.  (National Geographic)

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Apologies for the poor quality of the image but it’s such a well-explained anatomical picture that I’m using it for illustration.

 

 

 

Even National Geographic and its scientists have not been able to definitively explain the giraffe’s long neck.  I generally find common sense and the obvious to the most accurate, so I am going with the food at the top of the trees.  Some scientists think it could be for watching for predators, for males to bash each other with the head for domination (which is surprisingly nasty, if you’ve ever seen it on tv), or for sexual selection.  All possible.

 

Its long neck is only the beginning of the giraffe’s incredible anatomy.  Its legs are the longest of any animal, its tongue can extend over a foot and half and can strip bare an acacia stem so thorny you wouldn’t want to grab it with your bare hand –

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– and then there are its demure long eyelashes – even visible from behind – any woman would die for.  Its heart, pumps blood over a greater vertical span than any other land mammal and can be more than two feet long.

 

 

 

Undoubtedly linked to the giraffe’s long neck is its eerie silence. Giraffes are social and get together in groups and then dissolve, so it would seem they have to communicate somehow, yet they almost never make a sound and don’t communicate with each other using any kind of signaling audible to human ears.   Some researchers wonder if giraffes emit low-frequency infrasound to communicate with each other over long distances like elephants,  but the evidence is inconclusive.

I almost like it better that the giraffe questions remain unanswerable.   I cling to my childhood first impressions of them in nursery books, and find them to be one of the most lovable, sometimes comical, creatures on earth.

 

Best,

Jan

The Largest Bird on Earth

The ostrich has long been used as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of procrastination and the need to be proactive, to take the offence not the defence.  In reality, the ostrich does teach these messages, but by example of what to do rather than what not to do.

D488E936-BB1B-4D57-AAB0-88EC18611DECIn fact, the ostrich doesn’t bury his head in the sand at all.  He has the largest eye of any land animal, measuring almost 5 cm across, allowing predators such as lions to be seen at long distances.   His natural response is to watch for trouble, and take flight (metaphorically) at speeds of up to 70 kms per hour.  Alternatively, he will take on an attacker directly with a full frontal kick that can be lethal to human and lion alike.

This amusing video demonstrates the ostrich’s speed and endurance.

The Ostrich performs a complex mating ritual best displayed in this x-rated video:

The ostrich lives by that human maxim, it takes a village to raise a child.  A harem consists of a male and his queen along with a couple of subordinate females.  All females lay their eggs in the same nest, and the queen incubates all the eggs.  The male plays a large part in raising the young, from helping to construct the nest to guarding the eggs and chasing off predators.

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We have seen ostriches wherever we went, but of course we would see many in Etosha.  While the males fanned their wings to cool themselves, the ladies took to their boudoir and had a beautifying dry mud bath.  First, this one performed the cleansing to rid itself of mites and parasites –

– and then performed an inspection –

– not satisfied, like shampoo, it was rinse and repeat –

– and she was ready for her BFFs’ inspection –

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Success! Her beau was ready to impress her with a little en pointe –

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“Next!” – 

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There is something about this 8 ft tall, 300-lb, formidable creature that just brings a smile.

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Best,

Jan

Great White Place – Etosha

The Etosha Pan

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One day a village was raided and everyone but the
women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about
the death of her family she cried until her tears
formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up
nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

                                                         – San origin legend about the Pan

Part of the Kalahari Basin, the massive salt-clay floor was formed around 1000 million years ago of a lake fed by the Kunene River. Thousands of years ago, the course of the river changed and the lake dried up leaving a large dusty depression of salt clay with water springs along its edges.  With so little fresh water available, these springs and watering holes attract large concentrations of wildlife and birds, including 114 mammal species and 340 bird species that have been recorded in the vast park of 22,270 square kilometres.

There is much more to the park than the pan, and nothing can survive on it, although if it fills with water, the flamingos and pelicans will flock to it by the thousands.  This happened in 2013, and the last one prior to 2013 was in 1930.  And this year there’s the drought.  The vast pan has its own stark beauty, though.

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We drove to the Anderson gate of Etosha National Park and entered one of the most important reserves and game sanctuaries in all of Africa. Etosha is particularly famous for its black rhinos and we looked for them to the east just after the Anderson Gate.  

A Crash of Black Rhinos
Status:  Critically Endangered (but numbers increasing)

Their name comes from the Greek, rhino meaning nose and ceros meaning horn.   The name group name, a “Crash” of Rhinos, only enhances their coolness.  Everything about them says, I am ugly.  I am nasty.  Deal with it.

In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was the first organization to launch an international effort to save black rhinos from extinction.  Large scale poaching and land clearance comprised for the almost disappearance of the species.  They were too late for the Central-West Black Rhino subspecies, which has been completely wiped off the planet.

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The Black Rhino species as a whole has seen its population decline by approximately 97.6% since 1960.  Its original distribution comprised the entire African continent south of the Sahara except for the Congo Basin. Currently the Black Rhino’s distribution is very fragmented, with about 96% of the wild Black Rhinos in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.  As of December 2010, there are about 1,920 Southwestern Black Rhinos.

It is interesting that an animal that looks so dangerous, and can be, of course, with two formidable horns which grow as much as 3 inches (8 centimeters) a year, are herbivores. Black Rhinos are browsers and get their nutrition from eating trees, bushes, branches and fruits, they show a preference for acacia. They eat an average of 52 lb (23.6 kg) of food a day.  They only use their horns for defence.

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I don’t suppose the term “crash” comes up all that often, because the Rhinoceros are mostly solitary.  The only social unit is the mother and her calf, and this fact, along with this image, makes them endearing, even adorable. Males are solitary until it’s time to mate. Temporary associations are sometimes formed but they do not last long.  Huh.

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Here is an animal whose “camouflage” is black; who came here for water, and the lake dried up thousands of years ago leaving a white salt plain.  I thought this would be a better place for the white rhino, but it isn’t white, either (just a mixup in translation way back when).  But the black rhino here is coated in a layer of white salt dust, and while evolution may not have left it with white skin, it seems the black rhino and the Etosha pan today are sympatico.

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We saw two black rhinos from afar and this is the best possible shot, but it does show the paradox of the name, Black Rhino.

 

 

 

We spent a day and a half in the park with one of those days from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Our excellent guide, Tuhafeni from Wild Dog Safari, popped up the roof and opened the windows and away we went.  The evidence of the drought was distressing and there weren’t the masses of thousands of animals at any given waterhole, but it was still absolutely amazing and we saw more than we could have dreamed for.  

Queen of the Savannah, King of the Beasts, Pride of Africa
Status:  Vulnerable (habitat loss)

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55163A60-31D1-4813-B1AA-EF692BAD388AThere are so many misassumptions and fun facts about the beautiful, elegant lion.   It is the female who is head of a pride of usually about 15 lions.  The females do the hunting, the male defends the territory.  Although the male eats first, the queen will have female “favourites” who get the most and best meat after the male, so the cubs of the pride may cosy up with the favourites over their own mother.

8AA0E76A-867F-4A4B-8365-2C78D9FCE815Lions do not live in the jungle, they live on savannahs, like the land surrounding the Etosha pan..

The lion was once found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe But is now only in Africa save for one park in India.

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A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.

 

 

 

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The mating process is quick, we barely noticed!

 

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A lion can run for short distances at 80 kph.

 

 

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A lion may sleep up to 20 hours a day, which is how we found them, although we were lucky, we waited – they woke up!

 

This was only Day 1 in the park!

Best,

Jan

 

Acinonyx jubatus (Cheetah)

Status:  Vulnerable

Today, we’re paying a visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund in central Namibia.

 

67183191-38EA-4829-8B2A-19D4B70DEBCFA cheetah is a cross between a lion and a panthress, or a panther and a lioness.
                 – Aristotle

It hunts but with a single bound
Flying on four outsized legs
Of all the wind’s offspring, it is the resplendent one
Trailing its tail on the ground
It clings to the neck of its prey
Like the embrace of a spurned lover  ….”
            – Ibn al-Muʿtazz

8B69B7C6-A52F-45C6-B1D2-BE66871D1ABF“It is said that if a Cheetah has a difficult pregnancy, any male cheetah that sees her will take care of her and share the fruits of his hunt. When she is ready to give birth, she secludes herself in a place that she has prepared and remains there until she teaches her young how to hunt.”

Deriving from Sanskrit (चित्रय), the Cheetah’s name means “variegated, adorned, painted.”  Over 2,000 spots form patterns unique to each animal.  The Cheetah wears its heart on its face in the pattern of tears falling heartbreakingly from its eyes.  This feline is not aggressive toward humans and as early as the Ancient Egyptians, they have been adopted by humans for use as hunters and pets.  The female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, on her anthropological mission into the Land of Punt (1507–1458 BC), brought the Cheetah back to her court and eventually the cat slunk into Egyptian symbology, explaining the statue shown above that I saw in Egypt, found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

The Cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet.  Capable of accelerating up to 112 km/h in 100 m, they execute short, explosive bursts of speed, rapid acceleration, and have the ability to execute extreme changes in direction while moving at high speed. They would make amazing tennis players!  Like young Canadian tennis star, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Felix the Cheetah!

The gentle Cheetah cannot roar because of a sharp-edged vocal fold within the larynx.  Unlike other big cats who are nocturnal, she hunts by day.  Her claws don’t retract, more like canine claws than feline.  She is compassionate in her killing, she chases down and trips the animal (mainly Antelope), immediately suffocating it with a bite to the throat from her deeply embedded canine teeth.

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In 1969 author Joy Adamson, of Born Free fame, wrote and illustrated “The Spotted Sphinx” and “Pippa’s Challenge,” biographies of her pet cheetah Pippa.  She rehabilitated Pippa and raised her as a pet.   Pippa had four litters in her lifetime.

 

Cheetah Conservation Fund

As of 2016, the global cheetah population had been estimated at approximately 7,100 individuals in the wild. Several African countries have taken steps to improve cheetah conservation measures.

In Namibia, the CCF’s International Research and Education Centre is a renowned research center for conservation programming and education that reaches thousands of farmers, tens of thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of online supporters worldwide.

Part of their program rescues injured or orphaned cheetahs and returning them to the wild.  Some cubs first field runs:

One of their most interesting and successful projects has been getting local farmers onside.  Because Cheetahs hunt by day, farmers blamed Cheetahs as the chief threat to their flocks and their income and would kill any who came near.  To deal with the problem,, CCF breeds Anatolian shepherd and Turkish Kangal dogs, breeds that are national symbols in Turkey and for millennia have guarded livestock against wolves and bears in mountainous central Turkey.A992ABF2-F5D4-44F8-A986-B64E4FFC87F5

 

 


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The dogs are placed with Namibian farmers as puppies. They bond with the herd and use their imposing presence and loud bark to scare away potential predators, including the Cheetah.   Weighing up to 150 lbs, the Kengal, a natural shepherd, is up to the task.

 

 

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The program has placed more than 400 canines in ranches across Namibia.  Livestock loss has been reduced by 80 to 100 percent and farmers now understand the need for conservation and now protect the Cheetah.

Our Visit – Feeding Time

C6C74A05-A008-4D5E-B974-3B4ABE9C55C4We arrived at CCF just in time to see them fed.  A delicious banquet of raw donkey was laid out.  The appearance of the round bowls of donkey mreat meant feeding time to the cheetahs and they began to pace and lightly growl in anticipation.

These females are not able to return to the wild because they were adopted as cubs before their mother could teach them how to hunt.  They are highly ideosyncratic and have to be separated from the rest, kept only with other cheetahs they will tolerate.  This is reality reality not reality tv, but can be just as juicy:  each female has its own BFFs and arch enemies.

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They each feed in their own way.  Some attack their food, using both front paws on the ground to balance them, devour their meat and walk away.  

 

Aurora, however, likes to put both paws into the bowl, tipping it until she seizes it in her mouth and takes it away, jumping up on the roof to devour her food privately.

Mini Safari

Other cheetahs, mostly male, are more affable and can live on the farm outside of cages.  We were taken on a game drive to see these animals.   It was hot, 38 C in the shade, so the animals were docile beneath trees.  It was easy to see their reticulating claws.

Polly is the elder statesman at age 18.  She is recognizable by her thicker tear trail pattern on her face.  These animals hadn’t yet been fed and she was alert, watching for the white pickup truck that meant dinner is served.

Darwin finally emerged from his enclosure for a drink of water.

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We had a tour of the facility and were impressed with the scope of the work being done here:

  • the cheetah rescue program; some of the animals are here for life, some are returned to the wild
  • a large flock of goats supply an onsite creamery selling cheese, ice cream and milk.
  • A lodge sleeps 8 and has its own restaurant.
  • the dogs are bred here and provided to farmers as part of the community educational component
  • A genetic science facility on site studies the animals and their health, tagging wild animals as well as rescued cats.
  • Educational programs allow students to complete a year of their degree working at the facility.  There are students and interns from around the world and some of the scientists here are completing their doctorates.
  • A program to improve cheetah habitat clears the thornbushes from the landscape the chipped bushes are used to make pressed logs to sell.

Since the program was founded, the wild cheetah population in Namibia has doubled.

All of this means a large staff and costs a lot of money.  The Founder and Director, Dr. Lori Marker, a zoologist, travels the world doing fundraising.  They have an Ottawa bureau.  If you would like to donate, please go to their website, here.   

Best,

Jan

 

ǀUi-ǁAis to Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein Lodge

After driving half a day yesterday on unpaved roads with the final 40 or so  kilometres along the bumpiest road I have ever been on (my puffy-coat-in-a-bag made the perfect lumbar pillow), we were stunned to arrive at the gorgeous lodge.  After seeing almost no-one on the roads, here was a full parking lot.  The entrance was a beautiful winding walkway to the lodge in a gorgeous setting.

Today we had the full day to explore this area and we set out for the ancient San rock paintings.  The big sky has its own beauty and we passed this farmstead typical in the local countryside.

The San people inhabited this place because of the spring and the need for water, and named the place, “ǀUi-ǁAis,” meaning “waterhole.”

This place was uninhabited by Europeans until a severe drought after the end of WWII.  David Levin studied the feasibility of farming in 1947. He rediscovered the spring but struggled to extract enough water to sustain his family and his herd. Slowly becoming obsessed with doubts about the capacity of the spring an Afrikaans-speaking friend began calling him David Twyfelfontein (David Doubts-the-spring) in jest. When Levin bought the land and registered his farm in 1948 he gave it the name Twyfelfontein.  While commonly being translated as doubtful spring, a more accurate translation for the word twyfelis therefore “questionable” or “uncertain”.  History suggests that the San people knew very well the value of the spring and how to extract the water.

There are more than 2,000 rock engravings and paintings of animals and people here at this amazing UNESCO world heritage site.  The paintings are made with red ochre which has been used as a painting substance around the world and suggests the San bush people who created them were involved in trade with the outside world.

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Genetic evidence suggests the San people are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, going back perhaps 70,000 years. They have genetic traces that no one else in the world has, that put them at the root of the human tree – we are related to them, but they are not as closely related to us. They have unique markers that we don’t have.  The petroglyphs have been dated back to this age as well.

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As part of the UNESCO world heritage site designation, UNESCO has authenticated the engravings and paintings.  They state that:  “all the rock engravings and rock paintings within the core area are without doubt the authentic work of San hunter-gatherers who lived in the region long before the influx of Damara herders and European colonists. The setting of the Twyfelfontein rock art is also authentic and complete other than one small engraved panel which was removed to the National Museum in Windhoek in the early part of the 20th century, no panels have been moved or re-arranged.”

I’ve seen quite a few engravings in BC and I recently attended a seminar about ancient BC rock paintings by Canadian Indigenous people using red ochre.  My sister and I also got up before sunrise to see rock paintings at Zion Canyon in Utah.  But I’d never seen a site like this before.

We took a 45-minute guided clamber over the rocks to see some of the engravings.  They appear to have a range of purposes.  This one is thought to be a map of active water sources in the area.

Another was likely used to train young hunters of the various animal footprints, including those of humans.

Others depict animals not from this area at all, suggesting either very wide nomadic range or contact with other peoples, such as the image of a crocodile and one of a penguin.

And many clearly depicting the various animals in the region:

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Possibly the most famous engraving is that of “White Lady,” which we did not see due to a lion roaming in that area.  Her lower half appears white with masculine features and clothing while her top half is black and is clearly a woman.  There are several interpretations of her, but I couldn’t help wondering if, like Pharaoh Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt, she was a tribe leader who had to disguise her female gender to gain respect.   She certainly looks like a powerful huntress.

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest is a group of at least 50 fossilized Cordaites trees between 240 and 300 million years old, making our ancient rainforest on the Canadian west coast of 1,500 year old trees, seem young.  Scientists have determined  these trunks haven’t grown in today’s Namibia but were washed down a river in ancient times when one of the many Ice Ages ended on the Gondwana continent.  Due to enormous pressure and over a period of millions of years, even the finest structures of the wood have been dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz, resulting in perfectly conserved and completely petrified trunks.

These were pine trees – and you can clearly see the knots.  The petrified wood looks just like a normal tree but feels, weighs and sounds like rock.

Twee-blaar-kanniedood – “two-leave-can’t-die”

We finally saw the Welwitschia mirabilis, the plant unbelievably comprised of just two leaves, arranged so they can store water.  Like many of the desert plants of this arid region, the Welwitschia is thought to obtain most of its moisture from very fine mist blowing off the cold Atlantic Ocean. This allows the plants to survive but they grow very slowly.   Considered a living fossil, the plant is actually a tree that has been dwarfed and lives up to 1,500 years.  We saw some considerably younger, but older plants do exist.  Like the holly tree, the Welwitschia requires the cross-pollination of a female plant with a male.

This was not where our day ended, oh, no.  It was only warming up!

Desert Elephant Safari

Status:  Protected

We had the rest of the afternoon free and some of us took advantage of the time to take one of the tours offered by the Lodge.  We mounted our 12-seater 4×4 and headed off into the sand in the hopes of seeing some of the uniquely adapted elephants.  They are rare – there are only two groups of elephants, here and in Mali, North Africa.  They can survive several days without water and are capable of walking up to 70 km per day for water.  I’ve always associated elephants with water so I was curious to see these amazing animals that can live in a desert.

DDBFA240-5223-4CE8-A3C6-A059EFB3C8D1We would not have another chance to see them, so we climbed aboard our vehicle with our guide and drove for about an hour and a half crossing dry river beds and passing from the red desert we’ve become used to seeing, into the almost black, surreal landscape of Damalaland.

This is the land where the Damala speak the most beautiful language I had ever heard, with clicks and three other sounds depending upon where the tongue clicks in the mouth.  The sounds represent our x, q, etc.  We heard a number of the staff speaking to each other in the musical language.

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We arrived at a small village with a water hole where we hoped to see the elephants.There was no sign of an animal but there were tracks and some fresh-looking scat. 

We carried on through a Baobob grove with their roots poking out haphazardly.

It wasn’t long before we saw in the distance a large grey shadow.  Success!  We found 3 elephants and were given lots of time to take photos and observe their behaviour.   

The desert elephant has longer legs than other elephants and a broader foot.

They feed off off of the fruits of the acacia tree, stretching their trunks up to smell for fresh fruit before violently shaking the fruit loose from the tree.   It was an awesome sight.

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We drove on parallel to a dry river bed.  Suddenly, a head popped up in the bushes and I was instantly swept back to my favourite childhood program, The Friendliest Giant.  A giraffe, not a puppet!  Here!

 

 

 

Our driver left his tracks and we moved into the trees to get a better look.  As we watched, more and more of these striking creatures appeared.  These would have been passing through – they are nomadic.  We watched them for awhile before they moved on.     

It was time to head back to the Lodge for dinner, but on our way back we spotted a large herd of ostriches and some baboons.

We stopped for refreshments watching the sun go down behind the hills and the incredible African light seemed to follow us home.

Best,

Jan

 

 

 

Swako and the Skeleton Coast

Swakopmund

Reminiscent of a charming German town in the 1800s, Swakomund hasn’t changed much from its former German settlement self and the architecture reflects this in the form of domes, towers, turrets, oriel windows, embellished gables and ornate bay windows.

We took a short ride around town to get us oriented, ending at the museum entrance.  The museum had something for everyone, a lot of information about the local geology with fabulous specimens of various semi-precious stones, petrified wood, archeological finds, and a very interesting room dedicated mainly to the indigenous peoples of Swakopmund.  It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that it also has a lot of taxidermy and a German perspective on the history of the German people who invaded this land.

The museum is on the water, with a scenic shoreline, a boardwalk out over the rocks and a few shops and cafes.  We wandered through the colourful craft market with lots of beautiful wares and fairly aggressive salesfolk who were not unwilling to barter.  Just beyond the market were some feathery Swakopians, guinea fowl and a spotted pigeon:

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There’s also a waterfront aquarium, the Krystall Gallery of local crystals and gemstones a couple of seafood restaurants on a pier over the Atlantic, The Jetty and The Tug, and other restaurants and craft shops.  It was a relaxing day and a nice break from being on the road before we headed up the coast.

The Skeleton Coast

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Leaving Swakopmund,we head north on C34 along the Skeleton Coast with civilization fading away over our shoulders.  The sea takes on a grey appearance and the sand dunes now seem to threaten.  We are halfway between the forbidden diamond territory to the south and the vacant coastline until Angola to the north.

Under the sea lies half a thousand shipwrecks beneath dangerous currents and a hostile shore.  Some of the ships’ skeletons were found far inland over the dunes.   Says a local ranger, “even if you survived the wreck you were probably doomed. You struggle ashore, overjoyed that you’ve been saved, and then realize that you landed in a desert and probably should have gone down with the ship.”

We stopped at a recent shipwreck – when the Namibians won independence, the South Africans literally abandoned ship and this one broke free in a high wind and drifted to this spot along the coast.  The cormorants now call it home.

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Our destination is Cape Cross, where in the 15th century the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao landed and, as was his practice, planted a cross at this site for navigational purposes.  The cross that remains is a replica – the original stone cross was taken by the Germans and is housed today in the German Historical Museum in Berlin.   However, Germany has agreed to repatriate the monument to Namibia in n effort to make amends for its colonial past.  The plan was for the German museum’s curator to personally escort the cross in August 2019, but so far it appears that has yet to take place.

Suddenly, after all the desolation, life!

Fur Seal
Status:  Least Concern (but trade in pelts and oil)

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There are 24 fur seal breeding colonies along this coast and we stopped at Cape Cross where there are 80,000 to 100,000 seals.  The fur seal,  actually a species of sea lion, is not named “fur” for nothing.  The seal pups’ thick, soft, jet black fur are prized around the world, and the hunt is as contraversial here as the baby seal hunt in Labrador.  Adult pelts are too coarse but there is also a huge market for seal oil.

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The export of seal pelts dwarfs Namibia’s seal oil business—400,000 of them during the past decade—representing one of the largest trades of any mammal out of Africa. Most go to Turkey, where fashion mogul Hatem Yavuz has them made into “wild fur” coats. According to Seven Network, one of Australia’s main television networks, Yavuz controls 60 percent of the global market in seal products.

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We humans kill the seals for fashion, when their natural impulse is to save human life.  In September, 2011, a great white shark bit a man swimming nearby and his mates made a makeshift tourniquet using a wetsuit and two belts to stop him from bleeding to death.   The shark remained and patrolled dangerously close.  Eye-witnesses confirmed that a fur seal circled the men the whole time as they gradually waded ashore with the victim.  The seal kept the shark at bay and the man’s life was spared.

The fur seals in this colony are so populous –

– that the government culls the colony annually; this year’s cull was last week so the animals were more active and aggressive than usual.

Many had also just had their young so we were able to see the adorable babies.

They’re awfully cute, but they do not smell pretty.

They have many predators on land and in the ocean.  We saw a jackal roaming the outskirts of the colony, and saw lots of jackal tracks in the sand.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

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Some industrious locals were selling salt crystals they had harvested on the beach.  One looked like a beautiful ballet-shoe- pink rose.

 

We had to backtrack a bit along C34 to reach C35, the road that will take us inland to the northeast toward the Twyfelfontein area, where we are staying tonite.  The sun came out and the temperature is heating up again.  The pavement also ran out and we are back to the bumpy, noisy, dusty ride we had in the south.  Tomorrow, though, we will journey back 70,000 years.

Best,

Jan

 

Antelopes

Status:  Least Concern

We’ve seen all the antelopes of Namibia, so it seems like a good time to focus on them (using photos downloaded from the net).   Each has its own unique characteristics.  While these animals are plentiful and their conservation status is “least concern,” the three-year drought has left a lot of antelopes hungry as the shrubbery they rely on dries up.

Kudu

65CEE086-28ED-40E0-B510-7E47C59038AEGreater kudu with their magnificent curlicue horns are not territorial. Maternal herds, usually 6-10 females and their offspring but sometimes as many as 20, have home ranges of approximately 4 square kilometers.   The males are bachelors who only join groups during the mating season in April-May.

Before mating, there is a courtship ritual which consists of the male standing in front of the female and often engaging in a “neck wrestle.”  The male then trails the female while issuing a low pitched call until the female allows him to copulate with her.   Greater kudu bulls tend to be much larger than the cows, and vocalize much more, utilizing low grunts, clucks, humming, and gasping.

It is not always advantageous to have an attraction such as their beautiful horns.  The male kudus are not always physically aggressive with each other, but sparring can sometimes can result in both males being unable to free themselves from the other’s horns, which can then result in the death of both animals.  Also, the horns of greater kudus are commonly used to make Shofars, a Jewish ritual horn blown at Rosh Hashanah, making them a human target.

Klipspringer

690E6427-F997-43C5-BAB1-2D213B6E866CTypically nocturnal, the klipspringer rests during the middle of the day and late at night. A gregarious animal, the klipspringer is monogamous to a much greater extent than other antelopes; individuals of opposite sexes exhibit long-term to lifelong pair bonding. The mates tend to stay as close as within 5 metres (16 ft) of each other at most times. Males form territories, 7.5–49 hectares (19–121 acres), in which they stay with their partners and offspring. Primarily a browser, the klipspringer prefers young plants, fruits and flowers. Gestation lasts around six months, following which a single calf is born; births peak from spring to early summer. The calf leaves its mother when it turns a year old.

Springbok

BCDF8C35-1B07-45FA-8709-A8C5CA642570A feature unique to the springbok is “pronking, in which the springbok performs multiple leaps into the air, ” up to 2 metres above the ground, in a stiff-legged posture, with the back bowed and the white flap lifted.  It is generally thought that pronking raises alarm against a potential predator or confuses it, or to get a better view of a concealed predator; it may also be used for display.

Springbok are very fast antelopes, clocked at 88 km/h. They generally tend to be ignored by carnivores unless they are breeding.  Springbok are generally quiet animals, though they may make occasional low-pitched bellows as a greeting and high-pitched snorts when alarmed.

This video simply must be seen:

Oryx

490758E0-87D8-49DC-B194-FCEE341614F2This large antelope with its striking appearance of long horns and distinct colouration is the national animal of Namibia numbering over 300,000.   The Oryx occurs in the more arid regions throughout the African continent where it feeds on course grasses and thorny shrubs.

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Having successfully adapted to harsh conditions where scarce water and intense heat are the norm, it was chosen as Namibia’s national animal due to its courage, elegance and beauty – with the national coat of arms bearing this unmistakable dweller of the desert.  Striped like a race car and both males and females possessing two horns much like those of the mythical unicorn, it is the unique social structure of this species that sets it apart from others.

The way in which Oryx conserve water is fascinating. Having to consume up to 3 liters of water per 100kg of body weight per day, they are able to extract water from fruit and vegetables such as the Tsamma melon to maximize their water intake. These animals are perhaps also best known for their ability to wander far and wide when food and water is scarce, making them the quintessential nomadic Namibian animal.

The black and white markings on their bellies and legs is thought to reflect heat, thereby keeping their bodies as cool as possible. Their white and black faces though are more to show off their magnificent sword-like horns during competition for mates – size counts when it comes to female gemsbok, even though they have horns of their own, which are usually longer and thinner than those of the males. 

Steenbok

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Steenbok live in a variety of habitats from semi-desert, such as the edge of the Kalahari Desert and Etosha National Park, to open woodland and thickets, including open plains, stony savannah, and Acacia–grassland mosaics. They are said to favour unstable or transitional habitats.

At the first sign of trouble, steenbok typically lie low in the vegetation. If a predator or perceived threat comes closer, a steenbok will leap away and follow a zigzag route to try to shake off the pursuer. Escaping steenbok frequently stop to look back, and flight is alternated with prostration during extended pursuit. They are known to take refuge in the burrows of Aardvarks.

Steenbok are typically solitary, except for when a pair come together to mate. However, it has been suggested that pairs occupy consistent territories while living independently, staying in contact through scent markings, so that they know where their mate is most of the time.

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A fawn is kept hidden in vegetation for 2 weeks, but they suckle for 3 months.

 

 

 

Best,

Jan