The eastern side of central Namibia is usually seen in transit and not a recognised destination in itself. We wound leisurely through the back roads and found some unexpected gems.
Close to Gobabis is a wildlife sanctuary called Harnas which has gained some fame locally and internationally for rescuing the big cats. The sponsor of the sanctuary now is Angeline Jolie and many of the cats are named for her and her children, weird but there you go. Particularly unsettling was that some of the cats died so there are graves marked with her children's names.
We have a sort of love hate relationship with these facilities. The work they do is important and it is great to be up close with the animals but big cats in cages, even big enclosures, just seems wrong. Still the story and success of the sanctuary is heart warming.
It started as a hobby for the people farming there and they took in injured animals or animals preying on cattle and stock before they were shot. Soon there were so many that they neglected their farm and the cost of keeping the cats became too high. They were almost bankrupted.
An idea of developing the sanctuary as a business was formed. They offered internships to foreign youngsters to come and work with the cats and opened it to visitors. By this they attracted foreign donations and support and eventually attracted the Pitt - Jolie clan with the result that they received a big donation to sort out fencing and upgrade the pens.
Now the whole farm is given over to the sanctuary with different sized pens used as staging posts for animals who can be rehabilitated back to the wild. Many unfortunately can't be set free and they represent the permanent residents. Every day, twice a day, the animals are fed donkey meat and the guests get taken in a safari vehicle around the pens while various nubile foreign girls (paying interns) throw donkey bits. We had 2 Swedish girls on our truck, one of whom was a vegetarian. I am not sure how that works, digging into plastic buckets of donkey entrails!
Just south of Gobabis is one of the longest cave systems in Namibia, the Arnhem caves
It is situated on a private farm which is also run as a guest house and camp site. The caves are said to be 4.5 km long, as long as the Kango caves in South Africa, perhaps longer as they have not yet been fully explored. They are home to at least 6 bat species and for some years were mined for bat guano. Sections of the cave are easy to penetrate and navigate and allow sightings of the bats. These bats are habitual cave dwellers. They do not fly out en mass but rather live their lives in the cave with sporadic forays outside in small numbers. This is unlike the bat caves of Mexico and Zambia where mass bat migrations occur, and so this experience requires penetration and no claustrophobia.
The entrance is a wide chasm in the rock and the path then leads steadily down into the dark. The air is surprisingly cool and fresh especially as the heat outside is still scorching. We move from chamber to chamber, the chambers are lofty and not oppressive. A few bats swoop in the air around our heads and the ground is thick with powdery bat guano which swirls up with each foot step in a dusty atmosphere.
I would not want to be down here in a big group as it must be like walking in a sand storm of dust. There is a strong smell of urea and you are not sure how much of it is being deposited on your head as a sensation like sporadic rain drizzle surrounds you and the acid burns your nose. Best to keep your mouth closed while walking!
In the third chamber we spot the bats roosting on the ceiling. They are small, the size of a ping pong ball . These are the southern bats and tend to roost individually. They are skittish to approach. The next section is low and we must bend to get through. Immediately the atmosphere is hotter and now there are many bats attached to the roof and ledges in clusters of up to 50. These are the long toed bats but they are tiny like little pompom fluff balls. They swoop and land from the groups, shadows elongated on the wall. We see the droppings of the slit faced Egyptian bat and the giant leaf nosed bat but they are deeper in the system and do not come out for us today.
As no flashes are allowed photography is near impossible by torch light.
A tripod is essential and we used a monopod which was inadequate. You can paint with light but need the correct lighting,