A caravan in the desert

(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, autumn 2009. Author: Laurence Smith, former Michael Hearn Intern, Save the Rhino International)

Although much of Save the Rhino Trust’s work is undertaken using 4x4s, there are areas of the Kunene Region in Namibia that are simply inaccessible to conventional motorised transport. This has always posed a significant challenge, as these areas are also those with some of the highest rhino concentrations.

By a stroke of good fortune, Save the Rhino Trust’s (SRT) dilemma was addressed courtesy of one intrepid British explorer, Benedict Allen. During his 1995 trek in Africa, Benedict utilised the traditional lorry of the desert; the camel. Such animals had always represented a tantalising (yet prohibitively expensive) means of overcoming the inaccessibility of the Kunene’s core rhino areas, so it was with great excitement that SRT learnt of Benedict’s intentions to donate his entire camel team to the ongoing anti-poaching and monitoring work of the Trust.

The ship of the desert: Save the Rhino Trust's camels were donated by SRI Patron Benedict Allen, after his solo walk through the Skeleton Coast National Park

Credit: Save the Rhino International

Prior to having camels, the amount of days spent on active patrol was limited by the amount of supplies that could be carried by the donkeys. Benedict’s generous donation of his camels has allowed for the creation of a dedicated camel-based patrol team. As the camels can carry significantly more stores than the donkeys, anti-poaching and monitoring efforts can not only travel further into once inaccessible areas, but can remain there for up to 10 days without the need for re-supply.

Aside from the practical benefits of having desert-adapted, four-legged lorries, the sheer size of the camels also makes them formidable adversaries against the lions of the Kunene. For the trackers, the presence of the camels is of great reassurance. They not only help to deter the lions during the arduous treks to the base camps, but also represent an effective early warning system should any wildlife encroach too near to the camp.

Offering security, entertainment and all-terrain heavy lifting; for those trackers that depend upon the camels, they are the greatest vehicle of all!