In search of fairy circles and foxes on a sustainable Namibian desert safari | The independent
After having negotiated a shaded passage between two vast orange dunes, we drive in a valley. Its steep walls are pockmarked with thousands of circles imprinted in the sand. They shine in the harsh desert sunlight like countless non-blinking eyes.
Known as fairy circles, these sandy halos stain a strip of land on the edge of the Namib Desert stretching 1,800 km (1,118 miles) from Angola to the Northwest Cape Province of Angola. South Africa. Here in the red sands of the NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwestern Namibia, they are most abundant.
Oddly enough, scientists, despite decades of research, remain baffled by their cause.
I ask Tabita, our guide, her theory. “I think it’s God,” she said, raising a hand from the Land Rover steering wheel and waving wildly in the direction of the valley walls. “If he decorated the animals with scratches or spots, why not the sand too?”
Tabita is a Catholic convert. His tribe – the Himba – has different ideas. According to one oral myth, the circles are footprints of ancient desert gods, while another states that a dragon living beneath the earth’s crust breathes bubbles of fire which, when they hit the surface, burn the surface. vegetation in almost perfect rings.
The NamibRand Nature Reserve, a vast private reserve of nearly 200,000 hectares, has set itself the task of preserving these unusual phenomena and the desert landscape that shelters them.
In 1992, observing how the large-scale sheep farming common to the region and ever-increasing droughts were destroying the delicate desert ecosystem, Namibian conservationist Albi BrÃ¼ckner purchased a number of farms from breeding to create the reserve. He cleared away the dividing fences and built a simple tent camp, named Wolwedans, among the dunes. After the golden desert grasses grew back and the oryx (antelope) roamed the sand again, he began offering desert safaris to fund the conservation of the huge area.
Wolwedans is now made up of four camps, each designed to have minimal environmental impact: solar energy is used to power lights and refrigerators, vegetables are grown in a desert oasis, and water use is carefully. monitored. If customers exceed their allotted 50 liters, their supply, we are told, is cut off.
We stay at the amazingly located Dunes Lodge, where nine canvas-fronted rooms are perched on marmalade orange sands. The dunes roll in uninterrupted waves to each horizon of a striking blue.
The safaris here are not about ticking off the Big Five. We are in awe, not by a dangerous game, but simply by a winding course through these confusing, beautiful and scorching lands. The animals we see – oryx, ostrich, and sometimes springbok – have learned to do without drinking water, sometimes for up to a week. Their only moisture comes from the sea mist, which comes from the South Atlantic Ocean, cushioning the desert grasses.
âTo live in the desert, you have to be smart,â says Tabita.
The tok tokkie beetle that basks in the fog stands on its head atop the dunes to catch the fog flowing into its mouth, says Tabita as an example.
We get out of the Land Rover and trace the feathery tracks of a golden mole and a pair of elephant shrews on a flat section of dune. We find a pale-skinned horned viper coiled, almost indistinguishable, between the dusty roots of a quiver tree.
In the early evening, after crossing the blushing dunes to a lookout, we return to the subject of fairy circles. Scientists, says Tabita, believe that the ring-shaped roots of poisonous spurge plants could be the origin of the bare circles.
Our conversation is interrupted by Tabita charging a nearby dune in pursuit of a Cape fox. We drag in its wake, our sneakers filling with sand.
Another option, she says, once we establish that the cunning fox is lost in its desert burrow, is termite activities underground under the sand. Several sand termite experts have visited the reserve, she said, but their research was inconclusive.
âIt’s a mystery,â she concludes happily as the sun turns the dunes to the color of paprika.
Along with its conservation efforts, the reserve funds the NamibRand Desert Research and Awareness Center, where visiting zoologists and botanists have studied camel thorns, aardwolves and wedge-nosed lizards, while scratching their heads in- above fairy circles.
If all of this speculation gets too big, you can just adopt a fairy circle. For 1000 NAD (60 Â£), a numbered disc is placed on the circle of your choice and you receive a certificate with its exact contact details. The money is used for the continued conservation of the reserve.
“Alien landings? Said a guest at dinner. âDiamond mining,â said another. We are sitting on the wooden terrace; above, the sky is a rich, velvety blue. The stars twinkle like thousands of floating fairies, just waiting to land.
South African Airways flies to Windhoek, Namibia, from Â£ 774. Wolwedans is approximately 390 km (242 miles) from Windhoek. Contact Wolwedans for transfer information or hire your own 4×4.
Wolwedans Dunes Lodge costs from Â£ 341 all inclusive.