On the tracks of the desert elephants in Namibia


Our jeep slowly makes its way along the dry riverbed… The wheels slip a moment upon the sand, but all our attention is focussed on looking out for elephants… It occurs to us that in a place such as this, so vast, and lacking in colour, the desert elephants are well camouflaged.

It’s a fascinatingly remote landscape that the desert elephants inhabit, a mountainous region of volcanic origin. There are dunes of golden sand that the wind has carried from the sea and laid on the mountain slopes…

A few elephant tracks in the sand confirm that we are headed in the right direction, and raise our hopes. The desert elephant has evolved – or rather, adapted physically…it weighs less, has longer legs… – and it can go without water for several days… They are not a separate species to the African elephant (Loxodonta Africana), nor even a sub-species, but members of the same species, adapted to arid environments…

… In such places, knowing the routes and places to drink is of the utmost importance and memory plays a decisive role: remembering where the groundwater of a river comes to the surface … – is a matter of life and death, not only for the individual but for all the herd.

Nature expresses herself differently here… as though a gardener took care to prune the lower foliage regularly, keeping up this enchanted garden… Few animals are tall… Some elephants successfully contrive to reach the higher branches by lifting themselves up on their hind legs.

It’s a sight to behold: five tons of elephant, upright and perfectly poised… Precisely because the technique is not common, it is a rare thing to witness… and each time we are amazed.

Thanks to the good nature of these gentle giants, we feel a sense of belonging. But calm though the atmosphere may be, the elephants’ apparent patience should not allow us to become careless. If they misinterpret our behaviour, the results could be dangerous.

Extensive poaching in the past has caused the elephants to be wary and distrustful of humans. …our sense of wonder and respect for these great beasts… we get a surprise: another herd of elephants. Among them is a baby, its mother watching over it protectively… We drive on happily, confident that he will grow into a fine, strong elephant.