Only by experiencing something can you really identify with it – the programme for protecting the desert elephants gives you an insight into Namibia and the strong attachment of the people with nature at its best. You will experience intense moments in which you can observe fascinating animals in the wild, when you spend nights under the stars in apparently endless landscapes and become acquainted with the culture and nature of the country while conversing with the local people. The desert elephant conservation project is concentrated in the area of Damaraland, in north-western Namibia. Damaraland is a sparsely populated area, which – despite its aridity – is home to a virtually untouched nature, with a wilderness of fascinating plants and animals: a world full of contrasts. It is an enormous challenge for man and nature to survive in the conditions prevailing here and to wrest the few resources from the barren land. It is precisely these circumstances that have meant that one of the last remaining natural environments in the world has been able to exist more or less unspoiled until now. Experience the country from a different perspective and discover the true life of Namibia as a volunteer.
Namibia – experience the infinite expanse of deserts, sea, bizarre mountain ranges, stony plateaus and lush green river landscapes. To the north of Namibia, the Etosha National Park is a highlight, covering a surface area of 22,000 sq. miles, which was proclaimed a wildlife sanctuary back in 1907. It differs from most other game parks in Southern Africa through its parched savannas and grasslands. The luxuriant vegetation in the river oases in the Caprivi region in the far north-east is also highly impressive. The landscape here is dominated by the vast Okavango, Kwando and Zambesi rivers. The activities of our nature conservation project are concentrated in Damaraland, between Etosha and the mountainous landscape of Erongo. To the south lies the mighty Brandberg Massif with the highest mountain in Namibia, the Königstein, towering over 2573 m high. In the caves and on overhanging rocks there are numerous rock-paintings which have been made a world heritage site by UNESCO. The further north you travel, the thicker the vegetation covering the hills becomes and despite the dry climate and scarce water resources Damaraland provides a habitat for desert elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, zebras, lions, giraffes and a multitude of other animals. In Namibia you will find nature multifaceted, authentic and wild, waiting to be discovered at first hand.
To ensure that the desert elephant can roam through Namibia’s Damaraland for years to come, the project is devoted entirely to the conservation of these animals. Despite the prohibition of big-game hunting, there were very few desert elephants left in the region 20 years ago. The main reason for this was the conflict with local farmers. Life in Damaraland is largely dependent on the few springs which have water all year round – especially in the dry season. The desert elephants head for these springs on their long treks, but they are often taken over by man and inaccessible to animals. That is why – in their desperate daily quest for water – desert elephants sometimes destroy the farmer’s homes and wells. The aim of the conservation project is therefore to create a balance which meets the needs of both humans and animals. It helps the farmers with development aid, schooling and training and building protective walls. It also builds new water holes for the animals away from the settlements and shows the local population that it is possible to live in harmony with the elephants.
During your time here you will learn much about the culture and natives of this country and will gain deep insights into the spirit of Namibia. Another important component of this project is monitoring the desert elephants. You will follow animal tracks throughout Damaraland, accompanying these gentle giants on their endless ramblings and observing their behaviour, their population and their movement patterns. You will experience the animals at close quarters and learn much about their natural habitat. This incredible adventure will take you away from tracks and roads into the depths of this natural wilderness and will leave a lasting impression – a fascinating project, which you will never forget!
Your voluntary service begins and ends in laid-back Swakopmund on Namibia’s east coast. If you are travelling by plane, you will probably land in the capital Windhoek, 340 km away. From there you can continue by bus to Swakopmund. When planning your journey, you can of course count on detailed information and support from NATUCATE. In Swakopmund you will get to know the team and be briefed on the projects awaiting you. The conservation programme covers the whole of Damaraland and from now on you will be with the team, on the move in an off-road vehicle in the entire area. You will pitch a mobile camp in various places, enabling you to discover all facets of the country. In the first week, a base is usually established in close proximity to one or several farms. You will sleep in a tent for two or, if you prefer, next to the camp fire which is used for cooking and where you will eat together. What more freedom could you want? Wait till the second week! This you will spend on patrol, tracking desert elephants, you will sleep under the open sky and live in a breathtaking natural environment.
Everybody interested in volunteering abroad should be able to adjust to entirely unfamiliar standards of living in their future host country. Therefore, we would like to point out the importance of being flexible and adaptable regarding the accommodation and sanitary facilities provided by the project. Those are very basic and – depending on the project – cannot be compared to European standards. The equipment and furnishings are limited to a minimum; air conditioning is not available. Depending on your host country occasional power blackouts or water outages are quite common. Please contact us if you have further questions about your accommodation. We are pleased to provide you with comprehensive information since we would like you to feel entirely prepared for your time abroad.
As a volunteer you will be on the move with the team for at least two weeks, in the surroundings of the base and camping out in the wild. After fourteens days you will have a break or your project will end and part of the group will return to Swakopmund. If you are staying for longer, you can use the free weekend to go on an excursion into town. With its combination of Namibian culture and its architecture from the German colonial period, Swakopmund has much to offer and is more reminiscent of a Baltic seaside resort than a South African town. Magnificent beaches with cosy bars and restaurants make the town a popular destination for Namibians and are a tempting invitation for carefree evenings by the sea. Alternatively, you can spend your free weekend in one of the base camps – you certainly won’t be bored in this breathtaking environment.
Species conservation is frequently required in conflict situations where humans are encroaching on animal habitats. The rare African Desert elephant, which lives in Damaraland in the dry environment of Western Namibia, is the victim of one such conflict. The local population frequently uses the same water sources as elephants, rendering them inaccessible. Driven by their natural instincts to find new water sources, they are forced deeper and deeper into human settlements, where they cause unintentional damage to infrastructure. Local people react by driving the elephants off, which frequently results in animals being injured or killed. One aim of the project is to use construction work to prevent elephants wandering into human settlements and getting into unnecessary danger. it also aims to provide alternative water sources so that both people and elephants have consistent access to drinking water.