Find­ing Lions in the deserts of Namibia

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story by Ferdi de Vos | Cap­tured by Ryan Ab­bott, Philip Stander/will and Lianne Steenkamp / HPH Pub­lish­ing

The Prado’s diesel mill was hum­ming con­tently on the well-worn, but smooth Skele­ton Coast salt road that seem­ingly ran into noth­ing­ness up to its hazy van­ish­ing point.

Two power bulges on the bon­net, one di­rectly in my line-of-sight, were per­sis­tent re­minders that this was the lat­est facelifted Prado, the one with the big, broad ver­ti­cal bars and slit-shaped cool­ing open­ings fin­ished in chrome.

While the sandy, fea­ture­less land­scape flashed by, I also re­mem­bered that ap­par­ently the bon­net was shaped in such a way to im­prove down­ward vis­i­bil­ity at the cen­tre. It is also sand­wiched by the sides of the bumper to help pro­tect the en­gine bay and yes, the top sec­tion of the wings has been raised so that the driver can bet­ter pin­point the ve­hi­cle’s ex­trem­i­ties. Clever.

With an off-road her­itage span­ning more than 65 years, earn­ing the Land Cruiser a rock-solid rep­u­ta­tion as one of the tough­est and most re­li­able 4x4s in the world, such de­tails are to be ex­pected. And we have al­ready put it to the test, us­ing the most rad­i­cal set­tings on the user-friendly Multi-ter­rain Se­lect (MTS) sys­tem to free a beached BMW from the soft sand at Pel­i­can Point…

In­te­rior mod­i­fi­ca­tions have also been made, with the top of the cen­tre con­sole tower now set lower by 25 mm, a new full­colour mul­ti­me­dia screen, flush-fit­ting air con­di­tion­ing con­trol panel and a drive train re­lated in­stru­ment clus­ter added.

Our top-spec VX-L model also had the in­dis­pens­able ‘cooler box’ lo­cated in the cen­tre con­sole bin­na­cle, as well as seat ven­ti­la­tion, satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion (that didn’t work as no map for Namibia was loaded) an en­hanced sur­round-view Multi Ter­rain Mon­i­tor cam­era sys­tem, power-fold­down third-row seats and a 14-speaker pre­mium au­dio sys­tem with pow­er­ful woofer – churn­ing out songs from the rock su­per­group The Ra­con­teurs…

At the start of our jour­ney up the Skele­ton Coast we also sam­pled the power con­trols of the rear seats, de­ploy­ing them to pro­vide seat­ing for two hitch­hik­ers – young tourists from Ger­many and France – mak­ing their way to­wards Swakop­mund. They worked a charm.

By now we had passed the wreck of the trawler Zeila and Hen­ties Bay and were ap­pre­ci­at­ing the salt pans close to Cape Cross, mes­merised by the nu­mer­ous un­manned stalls with pink salt “sculp­tures” for sale. It must be a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, even though it re­lies on tourists leav­ing small change in a tin when they “buy” a sculp­ture.


So, what was the pur­pose of our ex­cur­sion? To find the ‘Lion Man’, Dr Philip Stander, a Cam­bridge-ed­u­cated na­tive of Namibia. Our des­ti­na­tion? Well, some­where close to the Ugab Gate; as he said he would meet us some­where close the gate and the Ugab river mouth.

And that is ex­actly how it hap­pened. Pass­ing the turnoff to the D2303 close to Mile 108, the flash­ing head­lights of a Namib-brown Cruiser with a tall ra­dio-mast beck­oned, and shortly there­after I could for­mally in­tro­duce my­self to Dr Stander.

Craggy-faced, bearded and bare­foot ,he looked as rugged and gnarled as the desert land­scape that sur­rounded us – his heimat for the last thirty years. But his eyes were bright and pierc­ing, and his move­ments sharp as he in­vited us to in­spect his quite bat­tered and beaten trusty Cruiser.

Ac­quired by way of do­na­tions from, amongst others, the Land Cruiser Club of South Africa about four years ago, the Cruiser 79 was spe­cially-built for his re­search pur­poses – kit­ted out with ev­ery­thing he would need to fol­low the lions and sur­vive in the desert for weeks on end – from fuel and wa­ter, to med­i­cal sup­plies.

“The lions roam over a large area, about 50,000 square kilo­me­tres, so I need to be able to fol­low them for long dis­tances,” the unas­sum­ing Doc­tor said. “It’s frus­trat­ing to turn back be­cause of a lack of fuel or wa­ter

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