Note: Tiffin resident Gabi Felter took part in an expedition to Africa this year, and recounts her experiences in a series of columns.
Lions and tigers and elephants. These often are the animals that come to mind when we think of Africa. We saw none of these on our journey.
Even though the central part of Namibia, where our Biosphere Expedition took place, had no lions, tigers or elephants, the animals we did see, observe, study and learn about were amazing.
I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" and, more recently, a good dose of Animal Planet. However, I still really knew nothing much about the wild animals. So, it was fun digging deeper into the behaviors of these magnificent creatures.
Our focus animal was the leopard - smart, strong, stealthy, solitary (except during mating season) and able to kill prey twice its size. The leopard can take its prey, climb a tree, drape it over branches and feast away knowing no other animal would get to it.
The leopard and the cheetah often are mistaken for each other.
The leopard's spots are black with a light, centered rosette shape in the middle.
The cheetah's spots are black and circular.
The leopard is shorter, stockier and has a bigger head.
The cheetah is long and lean and has a tail half the length of its body. It also is the fastest animal in the world.
Ongos farm offered us a variety of antelope to enjoy and watch, with its own contribution to the fragile ecosystem of Africa.
There was the springbok, bouncy and very fast. During mating season, the male does something called bonking.
He bounces in the air, lifting the back flap on his hindsight and emits a unique sour/sweet smell meant to attract females.
The red hartebeest's claim to fame is a great sense of direction, especially in finding water.
The kudu is known and treasured for its long, spiraling horns. It is the desired animal for trophy hunting, which a very lucrative business in Namibia.
The eland can go for a month without water, making it really handy to be an eland during the dry season (winter).
The oryx is Namibia's national animal and can tolerate areas where no other animals could live.
We observed zebras, giraffes, black rhinoceros, wildebeest, baboons and lots of warthogs dodging in and out of the tall grasses with babies in tow.
Two rhinoceroses that had been raised on the farm as orphans followed us at a very close proximity and we even got to pet them, with specific instructions on how to act. I did not know rhinoceroses are almost blind but have a great sniffer to make up for that.
Induna was the resident leopard. He had been abandoned by his mother as a cub. Not having the proper defenses to survive in the wild, he lives on the farm in a 13-kilomter fenced area.
Every day, we would go by and he would show up for food (which we did not have) and terrific photo ops. We even witnessed him hanging in the tree with his dinner of antelope on hand.
One insect and one animal with which I had a particular fascination for was the dung beetle and the rock hyrax (dassie).
I watched with amusement the dung beetle doing its work. Obviously, by its name, it is found in fresh manure - where it lays its eggs and then proceeds to roll the eggs in to a ball of dung.
The ball then is transported by little beetle appendages rolling along to its final destination.
Unfortunately, the balls often are too big or not exactly round, so there is lots of tipping and falling over.
On one of our treks, we saw a colony of small, brown, furry guinea pig-looking animals on top of a plateau. We counted about 20. These were the rock hyrax.
What is interesting about them is they are a direct descendant of the elephant going back 40 million years. Figure that one out?
Also, they have a gestation period of 8 months - one month short of a human.
The birds, the butterflies, the leopard tortoise and so much more were to be seen.
The one bird I found interesting was not because it was particularly pretty but that its official name is "the go away bird," for the sound it makes when people walk by.
Another interesting phenomena were the termite mounds or nests found under trees. They are large mud structures that average about 3 meters in height and extend into the ground.
During the rainy season, mushrooms weighing up to 1 kilogram each can sprout from the base of the mound. They are called Omajowa, and the Biosphere Expedition before us got to sample this tasty morsel.
I just read in a Namibian newspaper that scientists are studying the way the interior of the termite mounds maintain a stable environment and temperatures. They are hoping to find clues from the termite mounds for designing energy-efficient buildings.
Every day of my 12 days with the Biosphere Expedition in Namibia was filled with new and exciting experiences. The morning wake-up call was the baboons chattering away and being very noisy.
Did I mention that we were cut off from the world for those days? No TV, no newspapers, no social media and no phone.
This was heaven.