Miles of red sand dunes, stunted vegetation, rocky outcrops and an annual rainfall below 350mm of rain a year are hardly ideal conditions for elephant to survive. These eating and drinking machines can each consume up to 300kgs of leaves with a side order of bark, accompanied by almost 200 litres of water daily.
Yet, almost 600 elephant survive in the vast semi-arid Kunene wilderness despite the inhospitable conditions. In fact, several thousand elephant once called this place home, until poaching activities drove them to the brink of extinction.
The desert elephants of Namibia are a rare breed, and one of only two known groups of elephant to survive under these harsh conditions. The other is found in Mali, North Africa. Surprisingly, these elephants vary only slightly from the bush-dwelling variety.
Although they appear smaller than their relatives, the desert elephants are just as tall, albeit less bulky. Their legs are longer and their feet larger than their cousins and they have adapted behaviours which enable them to survive in the arid conditions of Kunene.
They have adopted long-distance migration patterns of up to 70km per day in their quest for water, and are able to survive for several days without drinking. They travel in smaller groups to reduce competition for food, and have learned to consume the less palatable food sources available to them.
Due to their remote habitat and shy natures, these pachyderms are not commonly spotted. They have a highly developed sense of hearing and smell and together with their poor eyesight amounts to a rapid retreat at the slightest perceived danger. Despite their size they are capable of astounding stealth and can disappear into the sparse bush in an instant.
A great deal of planning, patience and silence is necessary in order to get up close to them. Despite this, there are safaris and accommodation in Namibia specifically geared towards viewing these interesting beasts.