Patrol week with the Desert Elephants

Patrol week with the Desert Elephants

Posted by James Whiteman on 18th Feb 2013

"This was the first time that I had to do patrol alone, as Mattias our Namibian tracker was taking an extended vacation! I was a little nervous but was up for the challenge, and I have got to know the area really well over the last year, so thought I would give it a go solo! The first patrol of the year is always difficult as we haven't been out in the field for 6 weeks and don't have a good idea of elephant movements.

Luckily for me perhaps, Voortrekker, our largest and oldest bull in the area decided to help me out and wandered past base camp on Sunday afternoon! He was heading down river and I thought it more than likely that he was following the herds, so I could breathe a sigh of relief that I knew where to start looking the following morning!

The aim of the first patrol of the year is to do a general check on the elephants, make sure they are all present and check for new births. During the rainy season the elephants tend to move on to the higher ground and farm areas, and conflict is high, it's always a worrying time as a few years ago 4 elephants were shot in this area. We had seen tracks going into the farm areas, but it seemed that most elephants were still in the river system as the rain still hasn't come. The rivers here can flash flood during the rainy season and of course the elephants don't want to get stuck in the mud! In fact the Ugab River is called so as 'Ugab' describes that noise that your foot makes as you pull it out of the mud!

We weren't on the road for long before Voortrekker popped out of the bushes and walked straight past the car without a care in the world! We carried on in search of the herds and a half hour later located them in the river bed close to Anixab where the local school is. We saw Mama Afrika Herd's with their 3 babies all doing well and all the cows were present and correct. We stopped for lunch under a tree and relaxed whilst the elephants did the same.

Once the heat had subsided, (not that it felt like it!) we carried on driving up the Ugab. Just before we called camp for a night we found a young bull Tsaurab (meaning the one who goes softly, named because he slept in the base camp one night with Johannes who didn't realize he had a sleeping buddy!). So having seen one herd and two of our bulls we decided that was a good day's work and made camp overlooking the Ugab.

Tuesday started well and by 09.00 we had found Mama Afrika again and Voortrekker. We took some ID photos and then continued on our mission. Around 11.00 we found the three naughty bulls in the first wetland. These bulls are seasonal visitors and we think come from the Omaruru area every year when the Ana trees seed pods are ready for eating. They tend to stay until the rains come. They had the best time pulling up water pipes and breaking fences at our camp over Christmas!

After lunch our luck got even better and we found one of the other Ugab herds, G6, and again all the elephants were there including their new baby. We took some ID photos and after an hour or so continued onwards.

On Wednesday I decided to head into the farm areas as we had seen tracks going over the main road and one herd - the Ugab Small herd - had still not been seen. Last year during the rainy season they were also difficult to track and went into really remote mountainous areas. We drove a lot this day, but it seemed my luck was running out and we didn't find any fresh tracks. I decided to head back towards the Ugab in case they were in the northern reaches of the area. Just before we made camp we saw Voortrekker again (I was starting to think he was checking up on me) and being the gentleman that he is, he brought Bennie another one of our bulls with him!

On Thursday morning we saw all the elephants close together which was amazing! At one point we watched on in disbelief as a farmer chased them and then all the elephants ran off! Not wanting to disturb the elephants anymore and being pleased with what the patrol had accomplished we headed back to base camp for a much needed shower and rest."


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