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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.
How many cows would you give in exchange for the woman who is your wife? No, not today, after years of marriage, I mean how many cows would you have paid when you were young and head over heels in love. For many young girls in Kenya their value, their total worth to their family to their village has been reduced to their bride price, the number of cows they will bring to the family in exchange for their hand in marriage. Kakenya Ntaiya was one of those girls, until she defied tradition, stood up to her father and tribal elders and said no to marriage at 12 and insisted on staying in school. She came to the U.S. earned her PhD and has now returned to her village and built a school for girls to give them the same opportunity she fought for.
This week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend, I talk with Kakenya, who is one of our National Geographic Emerging Explorers, about the success of her school and how it’s changing the attitudes of the men in her village about the value of women, and effecting how they view their own daughters. Two years ago I went to visit Kakenya in her village and see the school for myself. The school has more than doubled in size since then, but from this video you can see the difference it was already making in the lives of the girls and their parents.
Just because leopards and lions live in a wildlife park in Africa doesn’t mean you’ll see them if you visit that park. These big cats are very good at hiding when they don’t want to be found, and at disappearing into the bush right in front of your eyes. But thanks to the skills of guides and trackers at the Londolozi Game reserve in South Africa we had some very good encounters with both leopards and lions. For my radio show National Geographic Weekend, Londolozi guide Helen Young explains how they find the big cats.
When the parents are away, the kids will play, and wrestle, and run wild. These hyena pups were just like kids when I watched them jumping on each other in front of their den at South Africa’s Londolozi Game Reserve. Their fun loving behavior proved to be irresistible, and I sat and watched them go at each other for hours until it finally got dark.
For many people, hyenas are viewed as the villains of the African bush, but anyone spending time with the hyenas in this setting would have a hard time holding on to that negative image. I interviewed Londolozi Ranger and guide Talley Smith for my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend” who sings the praises of hyenas and calls them one of her favorite animals.
Here’s part of our interview and some video of the hyena pups in action. You can hear the whole interview this weekend on National Geographic Weekend.
The first time I went to Africa’s Victoria Falls I was on the opposite side of the gorge from that magnificent curtain of water when I saw a guy climbing over the rocks near the edge of the falls. My first thought was, “He’s crazy.” My second though was, “Get the video camera ready because he’s going to be swept over the falls and be killed.” As soon as I start taping, he jumps. Now I think, “He’s suicidal.”
I keep watching for a body being washed over the edge and plunging to a certain death three hundred fifty feet below, but there is nothing but the waters of the Zambezi pouring over the cliff and reforming into a river at the bottom of the gorge. In a few minutes and I watch the man climb out of the water and back on the rocks and jump again into what looks like the edge of the falls. Finding one of the locals I ask, “What’s he doing? Is he trying to get killed?” That’s when I’m told about, “The Devil’s Pool”, a spot near the edge of the falls where it is possible to jump in and live, and enjoy one of the most spectacular swimming holes in the world.
Right then and there I make a vow that someday I will return to Victoria Falls and jump in, “The Devil’s Pool” myself. I’ve been back on several occasions but only this past September did I leave myself enough time to take a plunge in “The Devil’s Pool.” It can only be accessed during the dry season when the water flow is low enough that you won’t be washed over the edge. On this day we had the right water conditions but we also had a clear sky and a perfect rainbow over the gorge to complete the picture, making for a most memorable experience. I write about my plunge into “The Devil’s Pool” this month in my column in National Geographic Traveler magazine, but here is the video that shows how beautiful the setting is and why this may be the most stunning swimming pool on the planet.
We wanted to get close to black rhinos, we just hadn’t planned on getting this close. I was in Zimbabwe at the Malilangwe Wildlife reserve working on a story about African rhinos for National Geographic when we decided it would add a nice visual element to the piece if we tracked some black rhinos on foot. My guide, Brad Forchet, our tracker, Difficult, from Singita’s Pamushana Lodge and I set out on the trail of two rhinos early one morning but we were having little success in catching up to our quarry. They were just moving too fast.
After a couple of hours we gave up on the rhinos and decided to kill time and hopefully get some good ground level video of a big bull elephant. But when we were within fifty yards of the elephant, Difficult spotted a black rhino in the bushes behind us. We changed courses again and began trying to sneak up close to the rhino. Once we were fairly close, Brad started making rhino calls hoping to get our rhino to stick her head out of the bushes for better pictures.
As you’ll see in this video she not only stuck her head out, but her whole body, and then decided to come in for a really close look at us. That’s a nice way of saying, “she charged us.” Yes I have now been charged by a black rhino and lived to tell about it. It does make for an entertaining video, but the real story here is what’s happening to Africa’s rhinos and we tell that story this week on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend”. We also talk about the success of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in protecting rhinos in Zimbabwe at the same time record numbers are being killed in South Africa.