We woke at 5:00am and set off down into the Hoab river valley in our land river. The fog had moved in over night and related a magnificent scene - imagine a desert covered with a thick layer of fog viewed from the high mountains above. As the sun rose we saw a camp fire burning on a nearby hill and our guide, Johan, told us it was probably illegal campers or poachers. He said we needed to confront them and I was a little worried that we would be meeting armed poachers but to our delight it was all a big trick because the staff had set up a breakfast table on the top of a hill and we were treated to a wonderful "bush breakfast" with great views of the sun rising over the fog in the valley below. After a yummy breakfast we drive down into the fog and the temperature quickly dropped as the visibility got worse. It was strange to see animals like Oryx standing silhouetted in the fog.
Eventually the fog lifted as we reached the river bed and the scenery turned from a rocky landscape to a more lush river environment with trees and green bushes. There was no running water but this was great elephant habitat with plentiful food and water which the would dig for in the river bed. We found some lion tracks which was really a surprise because the area does not have any resident lions and they are not known to be found here. We tracked the lion prints up the river valley and eventually found two other sets of tracks but we could not locate the elusive cats. Like the desert elephant, these lions have adapted to he desert environment. They are quiet rare so we were excited about the prospect of seeing one though we knew that it would be shy and probably hide from us because it was not habituated to vehicles.
After about an hour searching we gave up and soon found fresh elephant tracks. Sure enough about 10 minutes further up the river we encountered a small group of elephants grazing on the moaned trees along the shore. There was a mother and calf plus several small bull elephants. We gave them plenty of room and observed from a good distance so as not to disturb these rare creatures. The elephants need to eat about 2 tons of food a day and have the ability to go without water for several days. They have unique features like very large foot pads which give them the ability to walk in sand due to the larger surface area. The foot pads actually expand as they put weight on them and the prints are much larger than a normal elephant. Very cool! We felt lucky to see these beautiful creatures here in a desert environment.
Nature is just amazing and never ceases to surprise and impress me. As we started back we decided to look one last time for the lions since we had a pretty good idea where they were located due to the tracks we had followed. As luck was on our side we came upon a male lion who had just made a kill of an oryx but he scampered into the bushes to hide when we came on he scene. We tried in vain to find him but he was too well hidden in the undergrowth. We inspected the dead oryx up close and saw that the lion had already eaten it's stomach contents. The oryx is a beautiful creature...a desert antelope that stands about 6 to 8 feet tall with two spiral horns that are very long and straight. It looks like a horse from behind and has a strong body. The most unique feature is its masked face with both white and black patches which serve to absorb and deflect the sun. The oryx can stand high desert temperatures due to these features which allow it to cool the blood flowing to its brain...
We headed back to camp passing some impressive herds of mountain zebra, some southern giraffes, oryx and even a black backed jackal. Another great day in Africa! Tomorrow we head to Desert Rhino camp where we will hook up with Save the Rhino Trust trackers and go out on foot in search of rare desert rhino... Can't wait!