If I had been wondering whether all this was worth it for a few days of tracking elephants, I can now confirm that it absolutely most definitely 100% was completely worth it.
Patrol week consists primarily of tracking elephants to monitor their numbers, health, movement etc. We track during the day, set up camp wherever we stop, pack up in the morning and start tracking again. We also log the GPS position of any other wildlife we see, so EHRA can keep track of the general health of the area.
Chris is in charge of Patrol – he has been tracking elephants with EHRA for 5 years. On the first day, Chris wants check out a spring he has heard about but never seen. Namibia has vast amounts of water underground, and occasionally it hits a barrier of rocks and is forced to the surface, providing a valuable natural watering hole in the middle of the desert. Keeping an eye on springs enables Chris to monitor the availability of drinking water for elephants. We end up in a place that looks like Mars. There is absolutely nothing for miles and miles, just rock and rock and more rock. And a beautiful little spring.
On Day 2 we drive to the Abe Huab river and start tracking, driving through the dried out riverbed. There was a fire here yesterday, which has kept the elephants away, but by the tracks tell us we’re getting close.
Day 3 & 4: Jackpot! Elephants galore!
Early on day 3, we finally come up behind a herd of elephants making a bee line for a water point. The government builds water points both for the local communities and the elephants, and on a hot day the Eles know exactly where to go. So does Chris – he drives ahead, parks at the water point, and lo and behold the Eles come crashing through the bushes 5 minutes later. It is a good first encounter, but too many vehicles from tourist lodges start to appear so we take our leave.
We soon find some elephants having a snack, and this time we aren’t disturbed by safari lodges. It is just us sitting in our cars, engines off, watching the elephants at complete ease.
For the next 2 days we keep finding elephants and enjoying the experiences. We see some amazing stuff – a baby elephant chasing birds, lots of eating, interacting and long stretches. We even see a bull elephant climbing up on his hind legs to reach the tall branches! I have about a million pictures to sort through..
On Thursday afternoon we head back to base camp and, as we are packing, a herd of elephants walk straight through camp! There is a water point at camp, and as they approach I hide around the corner and wait and wait. My patience is rewarded – I get to peek over the wall and watch them drinking mere meters away. Not being in the car, watching them from the ground in our ‘home’, is unreal.
It’s been a great week. Yes, I have another build week to get through, but it’s going to be so much easier knowing how great patrol week can be.