The Eco Dune Tour or “Living Desert”
I recently asked Sean if I could join him on one of our Eco Dune Tours for a much needed break from the office.
Sean, happy to have the extra company, picked me up at around 08h00 in one of our stretch Landcruisers. I was lucky enough to sit in the co-captain’s seat and thus had the chance to bombard Sean with all my many questions.
Once we had all guests aboard, we took a short drive along the coastal road to the entrance of the Dorob National Park. We drove into the dunes, and arrived at our first destination, the Horse’s graveyard. We got out of the vehicle and looked onto one of three graveyard sites in the area. An eerie atmosphere as Sean started telling us about the horses belonging to the German Schutztruppe in World War I suspected to have glanders. Some 1600 horses and some 900 mules where shot and buried here.
Sean guided us onto a small dune where he took out a map of Namibia and began to explain the formation of our dunes. He then went into detail about the minerals found here. I was once again reminded how well informed our guides are. The Batis team really are some of, if not the best specialized guides in Namibia. And yet, Sean was able to explain these scientific processes layman terms.
Our first “Living Desert” species we encountered was a Fitzsimon’s Burrowing Skink. This is a legless lizard resembling a small snake. It has a wax layer that allows it to swim through the dunes.
Continuing towards a rocky outcrop, Sean stopped to show us some tracks. On his knees he started digging until eventually he held an alien-like looking gecko. This gecko, the Namib Sand Gecko, also known as the Web-footed Gecko or Palmato Gecko is an endemic species to this area. Almost completely transparent in colour with amphibian like feet, this species is nocturnal, and stays hidden in the cooler parts of sand during the day. This species does not have eyelids, they lick their tongue over their eyes to clean them.
We had just gotten back into the vehicle when Sean pointed out a Namaqua Chameleon. Its camouflaged body turned dark grey as we made our way closer. Sean explained the many different features this special species had evolved to adapt to the harsh conditions of the desert. He took out a jar of worms and dropped a worm in front of the chameleon. We watched as the chameleon moved closer and within the blink of an eye the chameleon caught the worm using his long tongue. The chameleon changed into a light grey, meaning our little friend must have been feeling happier, and with that we left him in peace.
Continuing along the dune belt, enjoying the spectacular landscape views, Sean brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt, jumped out of the vehicle and ran up the dune. He had spotted a Sand-diving lizard. Sean leapt to catch him before the lizard had a chance to escape. Also known as the Shovel-snouted lizard, it is endemic to Namibia and is a terribly fast mover. Because the sand is so hot, one can often see the lizard dancing in the sand holding opposite feet in the air.
Our next desert adapted species we encountered was the Perinqueyi Adder, also known as a Sidewinder. Just like the Sand diving Lizard, this species has adapted to keep most of the body off the sand to shield itself from the scorching heat, thus moving in a sidewinding fashion.
After some excellent photo shots, Sean offered a small snack, before we continued to learn about Dollar Bushes. The Dollar Bush (Zygophyllum stapffii) is a leaf succulent endemic to Namibia. Its leaves resemble the shape of a coin, hence its name. In one of these bushes we stumbled upon a Black hairy thick-tailed Scorpion – very venomous. While most scorpions move around at night, this scorpion can often be seen moving along the gravel plains and dunes during the day.
We also found the Namibian fog-basking beetle. This species has an innovative survival technique. Also known as the “Tok-Tokkie”, they have the ability to stand on their heads at the top of a sand dune and catch water droplets on a foggy morning. The water droplets run down the length of its body into its mouth.
Just when we thought we had seen everything there was to see, we came across a Namib Sand Snake. This is another smaller snake and usually these do not get much bigger than one meter. I asked Sean just how many snakes there are in this area and he said that in addition with some luck off course, they occasionally encounter a Dwarf Beaked Snake. Together with the horned adder sidewinder and sand snake we can find four different types of snakes here.
The grand finale came in the form of our resident Tractrac Chats. These birds have caught on that we usually carry some worms with us for the chameleons. Much faster than the Chameleon they will often steal the worms right out of our guides’ hands.
With a short drive back, we finished the tour with a stop at our office in town where guests had the opportunity to pay by card and browse through our small curio selection, before Sean dropped guests off back at their various accommodation establishments.
After another successful day in the desert, I thanked Sean for allowing me to tag along. A morning in the desert had renewed my appreciation for the desert. Within the beauty of the vast openness and barren desert, there is life. Species have adapted, all in their own unique ways to survive, and if you know just where to look, you will find the desert is thriving. Our desert remains truly remarkable.