11 January 2010

The scariest animal in the desert

Nige and I have been working in Namibia for a couple of months. The Huab Basin in the north of the country lies just inland from the Skeleton Coast, it is the most remote places I have ever been. Fieldwork involves driving on dirt roads and river beds for a day just to get to the area, then camping out for two or three weeks at time without seeing another soul. Everything is carried in to the field area in the back of the pick-up including, food, water and spare fuel. Out here you are on your own and this is in the days before satallite phones or any of that stuff.

The landscape is harsh and unforgiving, red sandstone outcrops capped by thick mountains of dark grey weathered basalt. We make our camp sites where we can, we have a few prefered spots, where rock carvings and the occasional arrow head tells us that we are not the first to seek the shelter of the shallow caves and gullies.

The only vegetation is sharp and spiky. The animals are similar. The harsh desert conditions through-up all sorts of weird variations of the things we are more used to. Elephants with extra long legs for running over the dunes; zebras which are brown and black, and foxes with huge ears that triangulate the position of buried rodents and insects. Anything seems possible in this place and at some stage in our 3 months out here, we have seen most of them.

Several people have asked us if we had ever seen a "Honey Badger" yet. In fact we have been asked this question so many times that the creature is starting to take on mythical properties. "Oh man! Its so fierce it will kill a buffalo" was a claim from one local who we agreed was probably full of shit. "Its the craziest animal in the desert" from another, and "don't worry about the elephants", which had chased us out of the dried river bed "it's the honey badger that will get you". What were these people on about?

Then one evening as we drove back across the plain at dusk we saw a smallish creature casually lolloping along in the wheel ruts. We slowed down to see what it was, eyes straining in the half light. Nige says "it looks a bit like a badger" and which point it turns around and attacks the car! Huge white fangs barred, snarling and gnashing as a 30 cm fur ball tries to savage a 2.5 tonne Toyota truck. There is no fear in the beast, no comprehension of scale or consequence, just shear aggression.

Its terrifying and despite the fact that we are perfectly safe in the pick-ups cab, we both jump and cower in our seats. Then satisfied that it has made it's point, the beast waddles off. Confident that it has won the moral battle and got the respect that it felt it deserved it disappeares into the night.

Now it's our turn to say "beware the honey badger, it is a fearsome beast..."


ruralwalesdirect said...

Wow what a story - what a trip ... Geology database tagged web site development with exoctic location field trip support anyone?

John said...

Ian, yes those were the days when field work was really fun...

Now its a week here or there and too much sitting at a desk

When I need a website, you'll be my first port of call....

Any good ice routes this winter?