I once wrote an article called “Blame It On the Boy Scouts” to explain why I do some of the things I do at National Geographic. When the BSA surprised me last week with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award I told them how the Scouts introduced me to my first mountain, or what passes for a mountain in West Texas. A couple of years ago a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro inspired me to revisit my Texas scouting roots. Here’s a video of that trip which I describe this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend.
An African elephant can make quick work of a tree and this one did while I was filming at South Africa’s Royal Malewane Game Reserve. This week when I heard the new poaching numbers that 22,000 elephants were killed last year & 25,000 the year before I thought of this encounter and how special it is to spend a day hanging out with these amazing creatures, but I also worried that this experience may be nearly impossible to enjoy in a few years if something isn’t done soon to stop the poaching. I talk about the rise in poaching this weekend on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend.
We had a ringside seat for what I call “Elephant Wrestlemania” at Royal Malewane Game reserve in South Africa. It was an incredible day of elephant entertainment and play fighting. Here are some video highlights.
I’ve been on a rant for a few days against an NRA show that thinks killing an elephant for fun is good TV. The host of the show, an NRA lobbyist, is on a big game hunt for elephants in Botswana, Africa. The guide leads the host, Tony Makris, to a spot near where a bull elephant is calmly grazing, unaware of their presence. Some scrub bushes separate the hunter from the elephant’s line of sight.
Makris then shoots the elephant in the head three times, killing it. Later he and the guide are shown drinking a toast to their great day of elephant killing, and saying how great it is to harvest one of these big glorious creatures and bring back the ivory. The whole thing made me disgusted and angry so I finally decided to record some of my thoughts on why I found this whole program and Makris and his posturing so offensive.
I’ve also included some of the alarming facts on the rise in elephant poaching, which makes the killing of one for fun and a TV show even more reprehensible. And not that anyone needs reminding of just how charismatic and special elephants are, wait I take that back since apparently Makris and his ilk do, but I’ve also included some footage I shot of elephants at Singita Lebombo Lodge in South Africa.
I also talk about this senseless and sickening killing of an elephant this weekend on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.”
There is no better place to study endangered African forest elephants than the Dzanga Bai in the Central African Republic. Elephants are drawn in large numbers to this small clearing by the mineral rich soil. They will hang out for hours at a time making themselves easily visible to researchers and tourists, for the chance to eat dirt. The Bai located in the protected Dzanga-Ndoki National Park also offered a measure of security while the elephants were openly exposed.
Having big groups of elephants show up every day at the same spot also makes the Dzanga a target for poachers. Military patrols and ecco guards had been successfully protecting the park until May, when heavily armed poachers came into the Bai and murdered more than two dozen elephants. Conservation workers were forced to flee for their own safety. For several days no one was sure what was happening.
National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Wildlife Conservation Society Biologist Mike Fay decided to go into the Dzanga Reserve himself to assess the situation. I talked with him for my radio show National Geographic Weekend about what his was able to accomplish to insure the protection of the forest elephants. You can here the full interview at NGWeekend.com but here is part of what he had to say as well as video of the elephants in the Bai that I took a couple of years ago. I also talk with WCS biologist Andrea Turkalo about what this is such a special spot for elephants.
Elephants may be my favorite animals in Africa, It’s probably because they’re always doing something interesting. Even if they’re just eating I can watch them for hours, amazed at the skill with which they maneuver their trunk. This video, I shot at Lebala Camp in Botswana, is an example of how entertaining their eating can be. The fact they were snacking on water lilies just a few yards from my room made the experience even better. Also the elephants are helping me send mother’s day flowers to Betty who’s been an incredible mother to our kids. I know it’s a week early, but I’m out of the country on the official day.
Part 3 of my video Namibia: The Big Empty has some nice aerials of something called, Fairy Circles,” a rather unique feature of the Namibia landscape that looks as if it were painted by space aliens using the desert as their canvas. We also fly along the skeleton coast and get a good sense of how it got its name. In this video we also land at the Cape Cross Fur Seal colony, the world’s largest fur seal colony. You’ll see and hear some 100,000 seals on the beach, but since this is a video you will be spared having to smell the pungent ordor of 100,000 marine mammals.
Part 2 of my Namibia video features deadviei and sossusviei, perhaps the most photographed spot in Namibia. The deadviei is a beautiful but eerie sculpture garden created by mother nature’s extreme mood swings. Here she’s turned a former lake into a dead pan of white clay surrounded by giant red sand dunes. And scattered around the former lake bed are the remains of trees, starved to death by drought, their skeletal remains left to bake in the sun for hundreds of years, the dryness of the climate making it impossible for them to decompose.
You’ve heard the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” meaning you sometimes need to step back and look at the big picture. Well that statement certainly applies to the country of Namibi in Southern Africa. Since there aren’t a lot of trees in Namibia’s huge, mostly desert landscape, maybe the phrase should be slightly altered to read, “You can’t see the desert for the sand.”
Bottom line, to fully appreciate the texture, color, variety, and the grand scale of Namibia’s landscape a view from above is essential. Once that perspective is understood, then you can move in for the closeups to complete the picture of the country. I recently went to Namibia with a group of friends trying to capture as much of the country as possible from both the air and the ground.
My home movies contain a lot of this duel perspective and the images are so strong on their own that even my camera work couldn’t ruin them. So although I put the pictures or home movies together for the friends who were on the trip with me, I thought I’d share some some of the video with anyone else who might be interested in seeing pictures from this most visually spectactular country. This is part one of what I call, Namibia: The Big Empty.
The term Desert Elephant sounds like an oxymoron. How could an animal that eats and drinks as much as an elephant find enough food and water to live in a desert. Savanna elephants yes, forest elephants yes, but a huge pachyderm surviving in an environment that is primarily sand, rocks, and gravel is not an easy concept to get your head around. But a few desert elephants do manage to make a home for themselves in Mali and Namibia.
On a recent trip to Namibia I specifically went to the north west part of the country to look for these elephants. I was staying at the Okahirongo Elephant Lodge. I assumed with a name like that I had a good chance of success. Early one morning we set out from the lodge and quickly found a small group of five elephants at a river in one of the canyons. I though it had everything these big eaters could want, mainly lots of food and water, and some shade that offered a break from the intense sun. With those amenities, it would seem logical that the elephants might hang out here for days on end. But when we went back to the canyon in the afternoon, the elephants were gone, having struck out across the open nothingness in search of something else.
What they possible want and where did they go. For more than two hours we followed their tracks until we finally caught up with the elephants dinning on a few little scrub trees that must be rather addictive to have lured them so far. I talk about the desert elephants this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, and this video shows my day chasing desert elephants and the harsh environment in which they survive.