National Geographic : 2011 Jun
' yes, that's half the battle. And then we just have to wait and see if the cheetahs like where we put them." e two cheetahs snarled and refused to get out of their trailer. e male bit Rudie on the foot. So we backed away and waited. An unre- markable shrub on the gravel plain moved and resolved into an ostrich. We waited some more. e wind did its best to blow right through us. People who live in and near the Namib Desert speak of two winds: the east wind that blows in from the Kalahari, gaining strength as it loses altitude until it hits this desert at 60 miles an hour and raises temperatures to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. And the life-sustaining southwesterly wind from the cold Atlantic that blows fog as much as 40 miles inland, providing almost all the moisture needed to sustain the shape-shi ing wildlife here. It is not an extrava- gant living, this fog-fed existence, for snakes and lizards, beetles and spiders, but it's an impres- sively specialized one. It is also a fragile living, so much so that some Namibians I spoke to worried that the slightest shi of climate could send the whole delicate system into collapse. "It's hard not to imagine that a few degrees warmer would be catastrophic. is is a climate and an ecosys- tem already so extreme," said Conrad Brain, a wildlife veterinarian who had come to keep an eye on the cheetahs' release. Brain, who is also a pilot, ies frequently up and down the Na- mibian coast and keeps a careful, if somewhat anecdotal, eye on climate trends. "We've seen jel- ly sh swarms, shark swarms, leatherback turtles coming too far south---those are all indications to me that the sea is warming," he said. "It's easy to feel a bit alarmed. at's why this---releasing these cheetahs---gives you a feeling of possibility and hope." We stopped talking and went back to watching the trailer. Time did what it does in the desert: It expanded with the heat. Just as I'd put my notebook away, the cheetahs suddenly le the trailer. First the female decanted Desert-dwelling elephants follow the contours of the ancient Huab River Valley, wending through the timeless landscapes of the Torra Conservancy, one of some 60 such areas overseen by local communities. Alexandra Fuller's book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness will be published in August. Frans Lanting has documented nature and wildlife throughout Africa for more than 25 years.