Life in the Namib Desert ~ What a Surprise!

If you ever go to Namibia, you must take a trip into the desert. What you may think is just acres upon acres of sand, is not the memory you come away with once you venture forth into the vast wasteland. What may surprise you is that the desert is teeming with life: life that you do not see unless you have an experienced tracker by your side. Tommy was our guide and he was fantastic.

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He drove us to the edge of the protected area of the desert, where only specially licensed individuals may lead tours due to the ecological sensitivity of the area.

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Here he flattened the tires on the vehicles so we could travel more safely in the sand. Then he gave us an introduction to our tour. He talked about the beetles he had collected in a jar, explaining that the beetles get their water by diving their heads in the sand with their rump side up. As the frequent morning fog rolls in from the ocean over the dunes, the moisture collects on their rumps and runs down their hard shell and collects for the beetles to absorb.

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Tommy clipped his sandals to the front of the truck and we got back into the truck to start our drive across the sand.

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Our first hunted creature that Tommy found for us was the sidewinder, named as such because, when it travels across the sand, it goes sideways. The sidewinders here are not as big as I had expected, but still dangerous, especially for children. The venom usually does not kill adults, but can blind children. When Tommy set free the snake he caught, it immediately began to bury itself in the surrounding sand, and was nearly invisible in less than a minute.

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Off we went again. Tommy stopped at the base of a dune, having noticed some tracks and went out for a look to see what he could find next. This time he came back with a Shovel Snouted Lizard in his hand. He was happy to be the center of attention, and Tommy showed us the lizard’s amazing feet that allow him to scamper across the sand like lightning. Tommy had to run fast to catch him in the first place.

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One of the guests offered her ear for the lizard to hang around on.

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Tommy released our friendly lizard and we headed back out into the sands looking for a chameleon. The one Tommy found for us was also a friendly creature, happy to sit in anyone’s hand that wanted to hold him. We were told that sometimes these chameleons would turn pink. This one looked a lot like the chameleons in Madagascar, but you would not see the desert variety be the vivid colors we saw earlier in the voyage. Tommy took one of the beetles from his jar and fed it to the chameleon so we could see how long his tongue was when he went for the beetle snack. Very quick on the draw! The chameleon has the ability to move his eyes independently of each other, so he always knows what is happening around him.

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Tommy was determined to find us a scorpion. He and his fellow trackers were seeing lots of tracks, but could not find one to accommodate us. He did come back with his next capture hanging out of his mouth.

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This prize was a legless lizard that is very harmless and also blind. The interesting thing about this animal is that it takes in water through its rectum rather than its mouth. And you might wonder how it gets along being blind. It seems that the desert has a high percentage of quartz that is a great conductor of sound, so once the legless lizard is underground, he can hear almost any creature and follow the sound pattern to find it. Amazing!

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Tommy took us over to a patch of sand that was charcoal grey in color and explained that it possessed a high degree of iron ore in it. He took a small battery out of his truck and encased it in a plastic bag. Then he held the battery over the dark sand. Immediately the sand particles formed onto the plastic bag, almost like thick fur. It was interesting to see and feel.

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While we were stopped a small flock of birds swooped down not far from Tommy’s feet. He whistled to them and they would fly up and sit on his finger looking for a handout. Of course Tommy obliged them. Later, when we had moved on, still searching for the scorpions, Tommy let out a whistle and a couple of the birds swooped in again, almost on command.

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We continued to search for the scorpions. Lots of tracks in view, but no scorpions were seen that could be captured. But that was okay with me as it was a gorgeous afternoon, with the sun beginning its descent, so I was happy taking pictures of the ever-changing landscape. The sand sculptures are beautiful and no two are alike. So if you ever get to Namibia, the Namib Desert dunes are a MUST see. Enjoy!

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One Response to “Life in the Namib Desert ~ What a Surprise!”

  1. What an interesting post! And I loved the photos.

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