The Land Cruiser pitches and sways as it carves a sinuous trail down the Huab River. Dust boils from beneath the rear tyres and the scorching Namibian sun is relentless in its assault on the vehicle occupants. This is Damaraland…a seared rock and sand landscape sandwiched between the Namib and Kalahari deserts and the Skeleton Coast in Namibia.
Here the stark and skeletal vista speaks to one of desolation and heartbreaking loneliness. The formations are ancient lavas…basalts and granites…adorning the scenery with twisted rock contusions and bulbous domes formed as Gondwanaland writhed and shook and birthed the southern continents. This hard land has harboured mankind for thousands of years. Bushman shaman artists adorned the rock faces at Twyfelfontein and Brandberg with intricate engravings and paintings many centuries ago. Here too animal life finds a way. Springbok and Oryx, Ground Squirrel and Meerkat and Leopard…and Elephant.
Unlikely as it seems…desert adapted elephant eke out an existence here in the sand and rock-strewn furnace of north central Namibia. The population is small…barely 600 individuals…and their impact on this desiccated ecosystem is remarkably light and sensitive as if they possess a visceral knowledge of sustainable use and a fundamental certainty that to damage their food source irreparably would mean eventual death for their kind.
There are rivers here. Ancient drainage lines that have carved gorges and canyons over the eons through the almost impenetrable phalanx of geology. The Huab is one such river.
One must explore the meagre vegetation along these water courses if one is to have a chance at sighting the elephant herds. The Land Cruiser turns a corner at a far meander in the riverbed and suddenly there are elephant…ponderously drifting across the sand, feeding delicately on the available vegetation and rumbling reassurance to their calves.
Nothing prepares the observer for the majesty of such a scene. There is something powerfully spiritual in this quest, this search for the desert behemoths that wander, ethereal as ghosts, through the wastes of Damaraland.