Namibia Animal Count Sees Noah's Ark-Full of Beasts


Three random animal facts from Namibia:

1. If you get too close to a group of wild ostriches, they will stampede... and it's hilarious to watch.

2. Giraffes eat bones. For real. They pick up the bones of dead animals and swallow them whole. They do this to get extra nutrients.

Noahs New Ark

3. Jackals are much cuter than their name implies. They look like a cross between a fox and a collie.

"Nightline" traveled to Namibia for what is described as the largest annual animal count on Earth. It's part of a revolutionary effort to transform a place that used to be running out of animals into one that is literally crawling with them.

We were the first reporters to cover the animal count, which involves more than 250 people fanning out in 60 vehicles. They count animals over about 15 million acres over three weeks. They literally count every animal they see.

There are spring bock, a kind of small antelope, and oryx, another antelope relative with huge horns. There are zebras and zebra babies.

The counters have some serious eagle eyes. They're able to spot critters incredibly far away, even if the animals are obscured by tall grass.

Ten years ago, when the animal count began, the numbers were much lower. Counters would drive for hours and hours and not see any animals at all.

"You wouldn't see one [animal]," said guide Raymond Peters. "After 10 years, you can see you have to stop every five minutes now to count animals. ... It is very satisfying.

Close Encounters With Pachyderms

On our trip, we saw enormous numbers of animals. Everything from baboons to -- and here things got a little dicey -- a herd of elephants.

"You can see that, all three cows with young ones," said Peters. "You can see the adolescent there has baby tusks."

Our guides told us that elephants with babies are especially aggressive. "Those cows, when they [have] young [are] very dangerous -- very dangerous, especially when they're young," said Peters.

We drove right in anyway, getting close enough to hear them chew.

But then one of our cars had to take a detour because the elephants got too close. They can knock a truck over if they want to. In the end, we got away unscathed.

Namibia has been called "the land God created in anger." It's a beautifully barren country that looks more like Utah or Afghanistan than Africa.

Over decades of civil war and grinding poverty, Namibians hunted down and ate many of the country's wild animals. Species included incredibly rare desert lions and desert elephants that literally slide down sand dunes on their bums. Locals killed animals, like lions, not only for food but because the predators would eat livestock.

"In the past if you saw a lion track, you rounded up all the people in the village, you got on your horses, you got your guns and you hunted that lion down and shot it," said Chris Weaver of the World Wildlife Fund, who joined the count.

But attitudes changed radically about 10 years ago, when the government gave Namibians the freedom to manage area animals.

Weaver said now that locals essentially own all the animals in their area, they are much less likely to kill them.

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