Elephants on the Ground, Bats in the Sky, and Rivers Running Underground

One of our netting sites on the Huab River (Photo by Theresa Laverty)
One of our netting sites is on the Huab River, where Archie and I perched unnoticed above a family of seven elephants on the rocks above the pool. (Photo by Theresa Laverty)

Finding water isn’t the easiest when studying in a hot desert. Ironically, we’re here studying waterways specifically, and how their seasonal activity affects one of Africa’s less-often-considered animal groups: the bats.

An Afternoon With the Ellies

Our first day on the Huab River went great. We turned upstream from the gravel road and found a huge pool of water a few kilometers later. Archie Gawusab, my local field assistant, and I then spent the afternoon climbing up and quietly sitting on the rocks above seven elephants.

There is nothing in the world quite like watching a family of desert elephants at water. The juveniles were playing, shoving a young male into a knee-deep pool. A mother doused herself in the cool liquid, a welcome relief I am sure from the afternoon heat. Meanwhile, another mother helped her newborn cross the water after he nearly lost his footing, steering him away from the curious juveniles. It is extremely humbling to spend a few quiet hours alone and unnoticed while seated above a family of elephants before they silently continue traveling along the dry riverbed.

Desert elephant mothers with nursing newborns never roam far from water. (Photo by Theresa Laverty)

That night, we caught only one bat in the cool evening breeze. We packed up quickly and set up camp, hoping the next evening downstream on the Huab would be more successful.

A Bit More on Where I Work

The major rivers in northwest Namibia run from east to west. They drain into the Atlantic Ocean if their variable, short, seasonal floods can make their way through the sand dunes of Skeleton Coast National Park. —> Read More