Changing Planet

Desert Elephants

The term Desert Elephant sounds like an oxymoron. How could an animal that eats and drinks as much as an elephant find enough food and water to live in a desert. Savanna elephants yes, forest elephants yes, but a huge pachyderm surviving in an environment that is primarily sand, rocks, and gravel is not an easy concept to get your head around. But a few desert elephants do manage to make a home for themselves in Mali and Namibia.

On a recent trip to Namibia I specifically went to the north west part of the country to look for these elephants. I was staying at the Okahirongo Elephant Lodge. I assumed with a name like that I had a good chance of success. Early one morning we set out from the lodge and quickly found a small group of five elephants at a river in one of the canyons. I though it had everything these big eaters could want, mainly lots of food and water, and some shade that offered a break from the intense sun. With those amenities, it would seem logical that the elephants might hang out here for days on end. But when we went back to the canyon in the afternoon, the elephants were gone, having struck out across the open nothingness in search of something else.

What they possible want and where did they go. For more than two hours we followed their tracks until we finally caught up with the elephants dinning on a few little scrub trees that must be rather addictive to have lured them so far. I talk about the desert elephants this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, and this video shows my day chasing desert elephants and the harsh environment in which they survive.

Boyd Matson, in his work for National Geographic, has been bitten, scratched, or pooped on, and occasionally kissed by most of the creatures found at your local zoo. What he refers to as his job, others might describe as a career spent attending summer camp for adults. Currently Matson is the host of the weekly radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.” Conducting interviews from the studio and from the field, Matson connects with some of the greatest explorers and adventurers on the planet to transport listeners to the far corners of the world and to the hidden corners of their own backyards. Matson also writes about his experiencs in his monthly column, “Boyd Matson Unbound” for National Geographic Traveler magazine, produces videos for National, and serves as a spokesperson for the National Geographic Society.

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