It’s like Mars – with Martians, palms, dinosaurs and a river

Namibia, October 2019

By Jofie Lamprecht

A new adventure is set to start on this rather smoky but otherwise bright day. In our small aircraft we propelled on our operation. The landscape is stark due to a 100-year drought, dusty, barren – how could anything live down there? As we head in a north-by-north-westerly direction it gets even drier. Late in the three-hour voyage circles appear. “Kraal” circles with abandoned dwellings? How old? They are scattered in the stark landscape below as far as the eye can see. The heat from the ground below throws us around like a model airplane. The tears, cracks, canyons and glint off hundreds of shades of different rock formations – the feather-like erosion lines – the hills, with plateaus and mountains that one wonders if anyone had ever set foot on.

Between big mountains our pilot had warned of a steep decent and a hard put down. The mountains loomed closer and we went just about straight down and touched the gravel landing site. Nomadic Martians and their goats blurred past the aircraft windows.

Big country, forgotten by time, with steep mountains, big valleys and late season smoky grey horizons giving way to blue sky almost vertically above. We rolled down the rocky road in our transport and found more Nomadic Martians with their goats. Their conical adobe huts surrounded by little Martians. Passing between two peaks the desolate landscape is broken by a slash of green of tall palms that followed the meandering river below. Absolutely stunning stark scenery. This was home to the dinosaurs that we were here in pursuit of. Just like the land that surrounded it, as well as the inhabitants, not having changed much in the last 65 million years.

This area is proof as to why Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world. It is hundreds of miles for very little but bush and the occasional settlement. The red kalahari sand mingles with the white sand and the black rock where life is hard in the best of years – and almost impossible in 2019. This is part of the vast place is in the country I call home – a part of this country that I had not had the pleasure of exploring yet.

Next to the road the pairs of Damara Dik-dik totter over underfoot rock to the relative safety of the sparse bushes. Baboon and monkeys line the river course like vagabonds. Indigenous elegant black-faced or Angolan impala are a common species here. Klipspringer peek down from the lofty ledges. Where there are palm trees there is water – either the Kunene river or numerous natural springs scattered widely to wash life into this desolate region.

 

Across green water of the river lies Angola. Every several hundred yards on the river there is a beautiful noisy rapid of rocks with magical colors that one could hop from rock to rock at this late low water season and give our neighboring country a visit – no bridge or passport required.

 

There is an amazing bird life – kingfishers, fish eagles, love birds, francolin, pigeons, dove, wagtails, geese, teal and many more add both color and sound to this harsh paradise.

The reason to visit this remote part of Africa was the African Crocodile. This area is famous for having some of the biggest crocs in Africa. Every pool of water in the river has dozens of crocs. Tracks are everywhere – “slides” where they sun themselves. Only one tag is available per year, which makes this a great area to hunt for a very large croc – specifically in August and early September when the Martians claim they come out of hibernation and breed.

 

The Martians I refer to are the people of the Himba or OvaHimba tribe. These nomads have many parallels to the Maassi of east Africa that I have had the pleasure of hunting with in Tanzania. Living only from milk and blood, very little meat and are not hunters at all. In this far flung part of wild Africa they have lived and existed with very little modernization at all. If it was not for Epupa falls, a small but impressive waterfall, there might still be little but a two-track made by army during the border war.

 

The Himba broadcast their relationship status with their on their heads. Boys have one braid; girls have two braids on their heads. The boys in puberty make an impressive “horn” as this braid grows to broadcast their status. Men wear a short skirt of one cloth type in the front, a long cloth in the back – ladies the opposite short at the back and long in the front. Ladies wearing a crown are married, but there are very few crowns around and a lot of little children. How would this simple indication if being single have changed my days of being so?

The only major change in the 21st century is their diet and clothing. Maize has become their staple diet, with goat milk, introduced from the west. Their red and skin clad dresses enhanced by colorful cloths from China. Nomads herding their huge herds of goats, and the few cattle that remain make small hunts of palms and clay, with round kraals to keep their skinny stock safe from predation. It is like stepping back in time. The lack of government schools and medical facilities is evident – a result of the Himba’s assisting the wrong side during the bush war.

 

 

We found an old army two track and took it deep into the mountains and saw some palms in the distance. Getting out to explore and look for tracks we found two young Himba playing in the shallow water. We approached slowly when the two young children saw the “white ghosts” their screamed at the top of their lungs and ran helter-skelter up the side of the hill to their mother terrified. We followed them and inquired with the mother about game in the area and then left the traumatized children, and again pregnant mother and continued on our way.

 

This was set to be both a hunting and cultural experience for sure.

 

The emerald green water was where our quarry was. This was to be Rick’s second croc hunt with me – a species we both really enjoy hunting. It was HOT in late September and early October while we were up there. Shirts wet with sweat on our continued search for dinosaurs.

 

We relied on local knowledge as to where the big crocs were. The herder boys were the best source of information. The girls and ladies told us to shoot all of them… We would walk down large ponds in the river in the shade of palms and other riverine trees in search of a monster. We would find tracks, spot crocs and put bait out. In the end local intelligence led us to the largest croc I have ever seen. Easily over 16-foot-long – when they get that long they as difficult to accurately estimate – and sunned himself slyly on a huge rock on an island between Namibia and Angola. We ended up not getting this specific croc – but I certainly will be back… Rick is thinking about it too.

With the evening breeze easing the heat of the day, the sand and rock starting to cool – too slowly – the birds chirp that they have made it through another merciless day in the unrelenting sun and the light softens with the gurgle of rapids in the background. It is the hurting in the waiting that makes the joy of success so sweet when hunting these remote parts of the world.

We narrowed our search down to four different crocs and numbered them one through four by size. They were proving difficult to get on bait during the day, feeding at night as our trail cameras proved. Catching them sun-basking was decided as the plan. And we sat and we waited. We built blinds and stalked slowly down the Kunene’s banks. It was a glorious time in this mesmerizing part of the world.

Croc #4 came out every day, just down from camp and had proportionality the biggest belly of any croc I had seen in my career. The evening before D-day after working hard for 11 days we decided to sleep in and try for croc #4. Our rear ends were tired of sitting, and we were getting dangerously close to the end of our safari. We had a leisurely breakfast in the shadow of a giant fig tree in the cool breeze of early morning. We then took our rifles and made our way slowly to the pre-prepared blind 100 yards from the island where #4 appeared daily, and usually before 10 AM. Rick and I were reading when a rock that was not previously there appeared. I slowly raised my Leica binoculars and saw the head of the very green crocodile. Having hunted most of my crocodiles on the Okavango, Chobe and Zambezi rivers – I was used to the big old crocs to be pitch black. I soon learned that the Kunene crocs, even the big ones were a beautiful green. This we theorized was due to the deep green water of this – the Kunene river. The Kwando river is crystal clear, the Chobe and Zambezi much darker in color. Adaptations that have helped them to survive for millions of years.

Our set up was perfect. We waited for over an hour for croc #4 to come completely out the water. I had to calm Ricks excitement every minute of that long 60 minutes… it was almost time, but you take no chances with crocs. You have a single shot to hit a golf ball sized target – fail on your first shot, your trophy will be lost forever. #4 slid out onto his island. I nodded to Rick that it was time. We both lined up and took a few deep breaths. A millisecond after Rick’s shot broke, my pre-agreed backup was taken. Then a few more unnecessary back-up shots were taken.

There were two interesting events after the echo of gunfire had left the river valley. Firstly, the recovery on the island was not the easiest. We had to paddle in a motor-less boat with palm stalks as oars, with the current with us and the wind against us. We tied up our prize and pulled him into the water. We then went rock island to rock island and pulled him slowly to the bank a mile down river. The local Himba refused to get into the water… The second and shocking revelation was when we cut #4 open. We retrieved to veterinary cattle ear tags, as well as the woolen cap of what seems to have been an unsuspecting victim. On consolation with the local police department, they told us that there were many people reported missing but were never really followed up because of the nomadic lifestyles of these people – “so they might be in Namibia or Angola or have been eaten by the crocodiles…”

The last afternoon was spent fishing some of the 52 species of fish occurring in the Kunene’s waters. Yet another reason to come to the end of the world.

Postscript

Namibia, July 2016

 

Rick and I hunted a crocodile on the Chobe river in 2016. It was a lovely cool July and we were hunting croc by boat with the game rich Chobe NP of Botswana on one side and the communal land on the Namibian side. Truly a magnificent experience – with loads to see and hunting to draw our attention away from this wildlife spectacle. We found a big black croc’s sunning himself on an island and crept closer on foot. The closest we could get was 160 yards. Yes, a little far, but we decided we could do it. I set Rick up on an aluminum tripod gun rack, and I lay prone next to him. Rick’s shot broke, and in text-book style the croc’s mouth sprang open. I backed him up and Rick shot a second time. High-fives. We got our croc. I radioed our boat to come and fetch us and we made our way to a bank where we could get on board. About 15 minutes later we were on the boat and cruising to where our trophy lay. The game scout shouted and pointed – ‘the’ croc’s tail was thrashing back and forth and propelling him forward. Plop, into the dark waters of the Chobe. Our hearts sank. We made our way over to where this apex predator had entered the water. Nothing.

In late November I was sitting in my office when I get a message from one of the local trackers in the area Rick and I were hunting. “We have found your crocodile!”. What? Messages back and forth and the result was they were driving past a shallow pool of water away from the river and saw a crocodile within 200 yards of where we had lost our croc in July? “And?” I asked Mike? – “No sir, he is still there!”

 

I gave instructions for Mike to return to the pool the next morning a report back to me. Mike’s report was as follows: “Sir, we got to the pond and a herd of buffalo bulls spooked and ran through the water, stampeding over the croc and killed him…” – I got pictures shortly thereafter and sent Rick the good news. It was not the perfect ending to a fantastic – but not every hunt can be perfect.

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Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht