Photography & Travel Essay
By Marie Havens
For as long as I can remember, I yearned to observe & photograph wild elephants in Africa.
I had documented elephants in Uganda, Africa at the Murchison Falls National Park on multiple occasions — but I still craved seeing these incredible creatures in a more naturally wild environment.
EHRA offers a hard core volunteer program that places high value on much needed manpower for the construction of protective walls around drinking wells.
Elephants can cause extensive damage to community water sources — so the need to protect both these vulnerable creatures and structures (windmills, water storage, tubing, pumps) from damage (but still allow the elephants to drink) is an incredibly important task, especially in the Namibian desert.
So we built walls using our bare hands (and limited equipment) in the desert heat. We collected extremely heavy boulders from distant rock mountains, mixed cement, plotted the soil, and stacked cement and rock…all day, every day until the structure was high and strong enough. We lived on the Namibian dirt, slept under the stars and ate outside amongst roaming cattle, donkeys, wild dogs, goats, and loads of intriguing critters (like scorpions).
We also followed, tracked, and photographed the elephants for numerous days throughout Damaraland. We were like elephants, nomadic — eating and sleeping in a new location every night. For these elephants were breathtaking creatures, larger and more beautiful than one can ever imagine.
The first and last weekend of the journey we returned to Swakopmund to sky dive, sand board, and ride quads throughout the desert. All other weekends we would return to base camp — a truly magical place — located on the Ugab River, Northwest of Uis and Northeast of the Brandberg Mountain. We slept in a treehouse right where the elephant herds would come eat branches from in the middle of the night. We would literally awake to baboons screaming and the elephants chomping and breaking the very branches of our sleeping quarters. It was truly mind-blowing.
And nothing can quite prepare you as a photographer for how massive (and intense) a herd of 25 wild elephants can truly be — often walking only 5 feet away from your beating heart and carefully propped trigger finger.
For in the desert, an SLR shutter is often the loudest noise for miles.
By far, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Namibia is in South West Africa, bordering on South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zambia.
Namibia is one of few countries in the world to specifically address conservation and the protection of natural resources in its constitution. Article 95 states, “The State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting international policies aimed at the following: maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity of Namibia, and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.”
Most of the work that EHRA does is concentrated in the North West region of Namibia, known as Damaraland. This is one of the areas of Namibia that is seeing an increase of wild Elephants returning to habitats that they have not lived in for hundreds of years.
Written & Edited by Marie Havens
Photography by Marie Havens / StudioHavens.com
Design by Marie Havens
Special Thanks to EHRA (Elephant – Human Relations Aid)!
Additional Thanks to Outdoor Bound!
Namibia, Africa, September-October 2011, Photography by Marie Havens / StudioHavens.com