Namibia – Brandberg Massif

The Brandberg Massif emerges from the flat planes of the Namib Desert in Damaraland, Namibia. Formed from a granite intrusion, this huge dome shaped mountain reaches over 2,600m at its highest point and dominates the horizon for miles around. Numerous gorges cut through the mountain providing shady valleys between the high peaks and ridges. With the nearest settlement of Uis 30km away the Brandberg is uninhabited and wild enabling a unique and unusual collection of flora and fauna to occupy this arid environment.

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Brandberg is Afrikaans, Dutch and German for Fire Mountain, which comes from its glowing colour which is sometimes seen in the setting sun

On behalf of British Exploring, I helped lead the 2012 expedition with the following scientific aims:

1) To find and document the location of rock art in the Numas Valley of the Brandberg Massif. Findings were reported to the Namibia Heritage Council and to the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA)

Southern Africa contains one of the greatest collection of diverse rock art. Often found on overhanging rocks and shallow shelters, exposure to the elements and erosion significantly decreases the longevity of the rock art. Although Namibia is home to some of the oldest rock art, most will age up to 7,000 years unable to survive the exposure for much longer. Rusty orange and deep black images frequently depict animals and scenes of hunting. The artists of these images were ancestors of modern San hunters, Khoe herders and Bantu speaking farmers. Locating these historic pictures enables documentation and preservation efforts to retain the images for longer.

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Rock art of possibly a Gemsbok or Roan Antelope, found on a large boulder in the Numas Valley, perhaps providing shelter from the sun for the artist.

2) To record data on elephant and rhino sightings in the western reaches of the Brandberg and Ugab River. All data, such as location, herd size and composition, was to be reported back to the database held by the Human and Elephant Lion Programme (HELP) an organization set up to alleviate human wildlife conflict in the area.

The African Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) found in this region is often referred to as the Desert Elephant distinguishing it from the Savannah Elephants found in Western Africa. Although there has been no demarcation of the two as separate species the importance of the Savannah Elephant as a key stone species remains the same. In the 20th century, the population of the African Savannah elephant was decimated due to ivory poaching, war and drought. Prior to the 1990s elephants were unknown of in the Ugab or lower Huab catchment of Damaraland, the first bull to return was named Voortrekker in 1996. There are now 4 matriarchal herds known to frequently move up and down the Ugab and its tributary river systems, tending to concentrate at the river beds in July and August. As the population has recovered, conflict has arisen with local communities regarding damage to water installations, agricultural fences and crop raiding as herds migrate into the area. This conflict exists largely to the east of the Brandberg where there is a greater abundance of human communities. Movement of the elephant population is well known in this area and less so further to the west.

Desert (African Savannah) Elephants move up the Ugab
Desert (African Savannah) Elephants move up the Ugab

3) To provide an inventory of fauna observed thus indicating the richness of biodiversity in the area for future expeditions to refer and to build upon. This was achieved through personal observations throughout the expedition team and through the utilization of camera traps.

One of the biggest draws for participants on expeditions or travel to exotic locations is to see the enigmatic wildlife. The elephants, the rhinos, the lions. To capture that all important photo to show friends and family back home. Of course the elephants, the rhinos, the lions do not readily make an appearance and often on expeditions remain as elusive as ever, particularly in large expanses of remote wilderness. Changing focus to document all wildlife encountered however charismatic they may or may not be reveals wonders that are all too often easily overlooked.

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The Chacma baboon’s tea party, captured on camera trap.

4) To trial the use of kite cameras and assess the success of capturing aerial images of wildlife and the landscape.

Trial and error. The challenges of field work. What distance should the camera be hung from the kite? At what angle? How can the camera be attached to the kite? How much weight can the kite withstand? What can be removed to minimize the weight? How to launch the infuriating kite and the attached camera successfully? Field work: a mine field of problem solving.

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The Ugab captured on Kite Camera