The Namib Living Desert Experience

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”.
This famous quote by Edgar Allan Poe reminds us that just because something isn’t what the majority of society would stereotypically deem picture-perfect, like a dry desert or a brown chameleon or a whitish bird, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.

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Dry dusty sand. Without a trace of moisture. Dry as a weathered bone.
These terms may be used to describe the Namib Desert (81 000 km2) but amazingly, this unique biome has creatures that have adapted to living in harsh conditions. Everyone here either needs to camouflage themselves or have the ability to fake their own deaths in order to have a meal or avoid being someone else’s meal! The little creatures that inhabit the Namib sand dunes are unique and strange but rather fascinating. One of our tour groups here at Nature Travel Namibia recently had the opportunity to discover some of these creatures on their safari.

The coastal desert environment in Namibia is characterized by paler sand dunes with traces of black shades of magnetite whereas the renowned and older Sossusvlei dunes are brick red in colour and rich in variants of iron oxide. Either way, these sand dunes are strikingly beautiful and offer great photographic opportunities. They also offer spectacular views from their tops, but this has to be earned the hard way, either on foot or by 4×4!
After walking up sand dunes in Sossusvlei and experiencing breathtaking views of the famous Deadvlei on the previous day, we made our way to the coastal town of Swakopmund. On the 3rd day of our recent Namibian Classic Safari, the Living Desert Experience Tour was on the menu. Everyone in the tour group was very excited at the prospect of this!

We were taken on the tour by passionate and experienced desert specialists who are desert conservationists as well.

Namib Sand Gecko
Our first interesting creature was the Namib Sand Gecko. This almost-translucent creature avoids the heat of the day in self-dug burrows and is active at night. Its colouring allows it to blend in seamlessly with the colours of the desert sand. Another adaptation is that it has webbed feet, which allow it to burrow in the sand or walk on top of the sand. It also has adhesive pads on the bottom of its feet which allow it to be an extremely good climber.
The Namaqua Chameleon was also nearby, standing still and very well camouflaged. It has the ability to change colour to aid in controlling temperature, becoming black in the cooler morning to absorb heat more efficiently, then a lighter grey color to reflect light during the heat of the day in the desert.

As we continued our desert drive, we spotted some special birds which are very pale in colour blending in with the surrounding white gravel plains. The Tractrac Chat is of the race albicans, almost white and much paler than their counterparts in South Africa. This lighter colour is also believed to aid in thermoregulation. The Gray’s Lark was also spotted from close range and it is one of the Namibian near endemics.

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We also had luck with snakes, and saw Peringuey’s Adder and Horned Adder. An ambush hunter, the Peringuey’s Adder buries itself just beneath the surface of the sand with only its eyes and the tip of its tail exposed. When prey moves by, it is seized and envenomated. The Horned Adder has phenomenal camouflage and its body blends into the environment perfectly.
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Before we returned to Swakopmund for lunch we had some entertainment from the Shovel-snouted Lizard. This guy’s ‘dance’ allows the lizard to travel across the sand dunes but without burning its feet before diving into the sand and disappearing! Also, it is the only member of its family to eat seeds, a very clever adaptation for a lizard living in an environment not particularly rich in insects.

In a nutshell, the desert is alive!
Join us on one of our Namibia tours for an unforgettable Living Desert Experience. Enquire at info@naturetravelnamibia.com or go to www.naturetravelnamibia.com to find out how we can customise the perfect Namibia trip for you.

Diamond in the Rough- Shipwreck Lodge and the Skeleton Coast Experience

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What a special area! The Namibian Skeleton Coast National Park is renowned for its cold and unpredictable Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean that contends with the dune and desert landscape. It is described as the world’s largest ship cemetery because of various shipwrecks found along the coast. The Bushman called the coast “the land God made with anger” and early Portuguese explorers refer to it as “Gates of Hell”. However, the name Skeleton Coast refers to visible bones of whales that died when they get stranded on this coastline.
The Park is divided into 2 sections: the accessible stretch for Ugab River to Torra Bay and the most attractive parts that are north of Torra Bay which can be accessed through a tour operator with a concession.
In one of my recent trips I was fortunate to visit the newly opened Shipwreck Lodge, located 68 km north of Mowe Bay. We were coming from Palmwag concession and entered the Skeleton Coast National Park through Springbok Wasser Gate. This was a scenic drive as we encountered little herds of springboks and various birds including Ruppell’s Korhaan, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Stark’s Lark among others. After enjoying our lunch packs at Terrace Bay we continued north towards Mowe Bay. There are no signs that tell one how far you are from your destination. The road does have some sandy parts that requires 4 x 4 driving. We parked our car at Mowe Bay then we were taken to the lodge by local guides. We went past remnants of Suiderkus and Karimona shipwrecks, the abandoned Westies Diamond mine and the remains of the Ventura Bomber. The Shipwreck Lodge is designed with wooden cabins shaped like a ship and stuck perfectly in sand.
In the morning our knowledgeable guide, Bravo, took us for a morning game drive in the Hoarusib River. Encountering Desert adapted Elephants next to dunes was a mind-blowing experience and according to Bravo, they do go onto the beach as well. Other wildlife encountered includes Springbok and some Oryx. Quite fascinating geology as well. Rocky islands rise out of the levelled plains are remnants of the Damara Mountains. Coupled with the dune belt and the gravel plains, the rocky hills are the distinctive trademarks for this area. Birds spotted on the drive include Bokmakierie, Rock Kestrel, Augur Buzzard amongst others.

We stopped at the Clay Castles in the Hoarusib River and Bravo told us the Dunedin Star shipwreck story. Despite challenges of getting food to this lodge as it comes all the way from Walvis Bay, their meals are very good! A wonderful safari experience.

Written by: Previous Tsvigu (Nature Travel Guide)

Mr Namutoni- The prince of Klein Namutoni Waterhole

As we spend time in Etosha National Park on our Nature Travel Namibia and Nature Travel Birding Safaris, we as guides get to know the individual Leopards we come across based on facial and coat patterns and on the fact that we have seen the Leopard in the area before.

For us as guides it’s like connecting with a longtime friend who we have not seen in a while, however these meetings between Guide and Leopard make our guests very very happy.

This individual male Leopard hangs around the Klein Namutoni waterhole on the Dik-dik loop close to Namutoni camp, and has now been sighted on 3 of our Nature Travel Namibia safaris. The beauty of spending time in Etosha- the great white place or as I say the magical game reserve in Africa!!

Written by Marc Cronje – Nature Travel Guide

Leopard strikes twice in Etosha National Park

On one of our latest private Nature Travel Namibia safaris with awesome clients from Australia we had an incredible time in Etosha with not one but two amazing Leopard sightings in the Park

On our first morning we set off on the Dik-dik drive to check out Klein Namutoni waterhole. Just past the waterhole we had an incredible sighting of a young female Leopard spotted right next to the road by our guest with her keen eagle eyes.  We watched the Leopard grooming and moving around and eventually she tried to make a kill of a Dik-dik but narrowly missed. We spent over an hour with this female. It was a real treat and privilege to see such a beautiful animal. Leopard are not easy to see in Etosha so it was a real lucky sighting!

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Our second sighting came on day three at Kalkheuwel waterhole, when our guest shouted “Leopard!” This lead to us having the most amazing sighting of 2 sub adults all to ourselves for about 20 minutes. Both of them came really close to the car and we got brilliant views as they crossed the road in-front of us. Another very fortunate sighting for our wildlife tour in Namibia.

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Leopards are known to have remnant populations in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, eastern Ahaggar (Hoggar) massif in Algeria, and the coastal ranges of South Africa. Elsewhere, it occurs widely in the Middle East and Asia, extending into China. The Leopard is one of the five extant species of the genus Panthera, which also includes the Jaguar (P. onca), the Lion (P. leo), the Snow Leopard (P. uncia) and the Tiger (P. tigris). These amazing cats are such great hunters. They can run up to 36 mph (58 kph), jump forward 20 feet (6 meters) and leap 10 feet (3 m) straight up. Leopards’ ears can hear five times more sounds that the human ear. The Leopard’s spots are called rosettes because they look like roses. In my opinion one of the most beautiful cats to see on safari and it is always a very special treat when we do see them. What are you waiting for? Join us on Namibian wildlife safari today!

Written by Marc Cronje – Nature Travel Guide

Looking for Leopards

This young male was spotted on the first afternoon drive of a recent Birding Namibia safari in the Waterberg area of central Namibia. We stopped to photograph a very relaxed Red-crested Korhaan close to the road and after spending about five minutes at the sighting we happen to turn around and see the leopard about 30 meters behind the vehicle. He was also very relaxed and not worried about our presence at all.

Then after dinner that same day we departed for a night drive with the main focus on Owls and other nocturnal birds. We stopped when we heard an African Scops Owl and while searching for it with the spotlight we saw the eyes of this young female leopard. She was actually very inquisitive and came quite close to the vehicle to investigate. Everyone enjoyed the close-up views until she disappeared behind our open 4×4 safari vehicle and we lost her in the spotlight when you suddenly feel very vulnerable. Luckily she just continued walking down the track and we left her in peace to continue her search for prey.

The third leopard sighting was very special. It was towards the end of the safari and we were staying at Erongo Wilderness Lodge in the Erongo Mountains of western Namibia – a very special place. Most of the other guests were out on a drive or walk and we were at the main deck overlooking a small waterhole enjoying the displaying Freckled Nightjars when we suddenly saw an adult female appear at the waterhole for a drink. The amazing thing about this sighting is that although this is a wilderness area it is not a game reserve or national park. We are very fortunate to have a very high population of free ranging leopards and cheetahs in Namibia.

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Off course the opposite also holds true in that we normally see all the endemic and sought after birds on safaris with clients that have absolutely no interest in birds whatsoever. So in future when you feel that you have been very unlucky with leopard sightings just tell your guide to focus on finding rare birds – you might just be lucky enough to see one of the beautiful elusive spotted cats.