The Living Edens
a picture of a bird in the morning in Namib
Once it has risen, the sun evaporates any remaining moisture in the air. Far from the misted world of dawn, the Namib appears as the arid desert it is, a golden, rolling sea of dunes.

For the Namib's larger animals, the morning is a crucial period, a time when they must find the water that will sustain them through the day. Devoid of rivers, the desert offers only a sparse selection of muddy water holes, but the animals of the Namib are not particular. In the first hours of the day, before the heat sears the land, gemsbok, ostriches, sand grouse, vultures, and wart hogs congregate at these oases to drink.

a picture of a vultureVulture
Nesting in trees near watering holes, Lappet-faced vultures fly down riverbeds toward the sea. Often, vultures will feed on ostrich eggs, breaking them open by hurling small stones at them with their beaks.

The Cape vulture is one of Namibia's most endangered birds; a single colony of twenty breeding adults is all that remains of the species. An extensive education campaign aimed at the farmers who tried to fight them off has slowed the slaughter. Although the numbers are still perilously low, the population is beginning to stabilize.

a picture of gemsbokGemsbok
Also known as the oryx, the gemsbok has the lightest colored coat of any long-horned antelope subspecies and ventures the deepest into the desert. The gemsbok can withstand the intense heat of the Namib because of its intricate system of blood vessels and nasal passages, which cool blood before it reaches the brain.

Gemsbok obtain water by digging for it underground, drinking from watering holes, and feeding in the early morning on plants with high moisture content. Access to watering holes is determined by sex and physical condition, males evicting females and the strong evicting the weak. If no water is available, gemsbok will let their body temperature rise before they begin to sweat, and will also raise their respiration rate from 20 to 120 pants per minute. At night, in order to sustain their body temperature without losing any water, they will breath slowly and deeply. As result of the gemsbok's numerous adaptations, it is able to tolerate high temperatures and go days without water.

a picture of a group of ostrichOstrich
In the morning, ostriches can be found drinking at watering holes or feeding on moisture-laden grasses. Losing up to a quarter of their body weight per day, ostriches drink water when they can find it, but they can live for long periods even when dehydrated. Thick plumage insulates their bodies from the heat, and their body feathers and wings can raise to capture cooling breezes. In the afternoon, when temperatures are at their extreme, ostriches will pant, causing their respiration rates to increase from four to 40 breaths per minute.

Unlike the gemsbok, another large animal of the Namib, ostriches do not sweat. Instead, they excrete uric acid, which requires no water loss to dispose of, and they are the only known animals whose exhaled air is not fully saturated -- making that air up to 40 degrees cooler than their body temperatures.

a picture of a warthogWart Hog
The wart hog is an African pig with large, curved tusks that protrude from its huge, flattened head. Drinking all day to avoid dehydration from the burning sun, the wart hog never strays far from Namib's watering holes. The wart hog's food is also a source of water; it digests the moisture found in roots, plants, birds' eggs, and occasionally, a small mammal.

A typical large boar may weigh up to 200 pounds with tusks that protrude two feet from its level head. Between the tusks and the wart hog's eyes are three pairs of "warts" from which the hog gets its name.

a picture of a Namaqua Sand GrouseNamaqua Sand Grouse
Like the ostrich, the sand grouse flocks to the few water holes found in the Namib. A male may fly many miles to bring water back to his family. Specially adapted breast feathers can absorb up to 40ml of water. After wading through watering holes to absorb water, the male will return to the nest so the chicks can drink the water from the feathers.

As the day grows hotter, sand grouse will droop their wings to allow cooling draughts around the body, huddle together (since their body temperature is lower than the air temperature), and use throat-fluttering techniques that expend less energy than panting. As result of all of these adaptations, the sand grouse's body temperature can be as much as 15 degrees lower than the scorching air temperatures.

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