Tracking desert rhinos: first catch your camel

SRT trackers Hans and Dansiekie Ganaseb, with camels

SRT trackers Hans and Dansiekie Ganaseb, with camels

For once the loud grumbling noise is not coming from our stomachs. It’s quite a din and makes it difficult to say hello again to one of our old friends from Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) in Namibia, the charity that’s protecting the world’s last remaining population of truly free-roaming black rhinos: the rare, desert-adapted black rhinos of the Kunene.

Dansiekie Ganaseb was an SRT rhino tracker at Wilderness Safari’s remote but luxurious Desert Rhino Camp when we last met some four years ago. It was his tracking skills that got us close enough to a well-known territorial bull called ‘Ben’ to get the photographs we needed for a travel feature article we were writing at the time on Namibia’s desert wildlife. And it was Dansiekie who put himself between us and a belligerent black rhino when the animal came a bit too close for comfort at one point.

ACPS11  Save the Rhino Trust camel camp

Saddle up! Preparing the camels for patrol

We’d almost bumped into Ben when skirting carefully round a rocky outcrop to get downwind of him. It was a close shave and we still don’t know who was more surprised by the close encounter – the rhino or us. Yes we had a few nearby rocks for cover, but still our hearts were racing and it wasn’t an incident we’d forget in a hurry.

Turns out Dansiekie has just recently switched jobs. He’s now looking after the source of this awful, ear-splitting, grumbling noise – three rather ugly-looking and ill-mannered camels. Noisy and ungainly they may be, but Dansiekie is nonetheless completely smitten by his new charges. ‘I very much like it here. The camels are very, very good animals,’ he tells us.

ACPS02 Metal logo for Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia

Save The Rhino Trust collects vital data on Namibia’s desert rhinos

That’s because these oddly statuesque ships of the desert play a huge role in helping protect the black rhinos of this remote and impossibly rocky region. Most of the SRT’s operational area here is only accessible by 4×4, but there are areas where even the sturdiest man-made vehicles struggle. This is where the SRT camels come into their own. They go where the 4x4s can’t and can carry much bigger loads than other beasts of burden like donkeys, allowing patrol teams to travel further and stay in the field for much longer periods. Without these cacophonous camels the tracking team’s job of patrolling core rhino areas, monitoring the rhino population and collecting important data on the animals would be much harder and much slower.

ACPS12  Hans Ganaseb of Save the Rhino Trust camel patrol team

Tracker Hans Ganaseb, with Jan

‘It’s easier to find the rhinos with them. If you work with vehicles each day you find maybe three or four rhinos. If you work with the camels you see maybe nine or even 12. In the hills they’re really good at all the ups and downs. That’s why I prefer to work here with the camels,’ says Dansiekie. ‘My favourite is Jan because he leads the others.’

Jan, who seems particularly noisy and naughty while being photographed, was originally donated by British explorer Benedict Allen after his 1995 expedition up Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, which was televised by the BBC. He donated his whole team of six camels to the SRT once his trip was completed, and Jan is the last survivor. Two more have been acquired since. Jan may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but these camels certainly do their bit for rare black rhino conservation in this challenging desert terrain.

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