Canoeing with Elephants

http://As good as it gets, an afternoon in Botswana canoeing with National Geographic filmmakers & Explorers in Residence, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, as elephants come to the river to drink.  Roger Miller sang, “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd”, but as I found out can go canoeing in a buffalo herd and an elephant herd to create an unforgettable experience.  When the action began I was thinking it doesn’t get any better than this, but it did as more elephants kept showing up.  It was the perfect day at Selinda Explorers Camp.

Botswana Then & Now: 20th Anniversary Trip


To paraphrase the Beatles, It was 20 yrs. ago today that the Jourberts taught me to play…. in Botswana.  It was my 1st trip for National Geographic and the film camp for Dereck & Beverly Joubert in Botswana was my first stop.  They introduced me to their neighbors, some of Africa’s most famous wildlife, lions, hippos, and elephants by taking me right up the neighbors front door, close enough to almost shake hands with them.

It was an experience that hooked me on Africa & has lured me back to the continent almost every year since.   This past year I returned for a 20th anniversary reunion with the Jouberts at the site where we first met.  This is an interview we did reflecting on those 20 year old experiences and looking at the changes their films have helped bring to conservation in Africa.  There are some scenes from that 1994 trip here, but also some new images showing how the Jouberts are still getting closer to the animals than you could imagine possible to bring you intimate portraits of Africa’s wildlife.  The full interview is on my radio show National Geographic Weekend this week.

The Miracle of the Jesus Bird


The Jesus Bird performs a miracle & it’s not walking on water, although that apparent skill earned the African Jacana its nickname.  As I was filming these birds one hot afternoon in Botswana I though the miracle I need is for these birds to turn this water into wine or at a minimum turn some of it into ice.  No luck there, but I did learn about one truly miraculous evolutionary development of the female Jacana revealed in this video. #GreatPlainsConservation #Botswana

Dog Paddling Cats

You can lead a cat to water, but can you make him swim? Well when swimming is the only way to get to their next meal some big cats in Botswana have adapted to the life aquatic. Having once tried to give my cat a bath, I have the scratch marks to prove most cats have a real aversion to taking a dip, but these Botswana lions have learned to dog paddle their way across the rivers and wetlands of the Okavango Delta.

I recently spent a few days following the lions at #DubaPlains and filming their swimming and wading in the water.  It was a scene I first filmed seven years ago and some of the cubs from that time are still splashing around today.  They’ve also passed on their swimming ways to a new generation of lions.  And when I traveled to #SelindaExplorers in Northern Botswana, I encountered another pride of lions who’ve adapted to living in a watery environment and added swimming to their hunting repertoire.

Baby Elephant Walk

In spite of the old saying, not everyone has to learn to crawl before they walk. In fact if you’re a newborn elephant you’re expected to hit the ground running or at least staggering fast enough to keep up with the herd. Here’s some video I shot in #Botswana of a baby elephant, just a few hours old, as he put on a show, stumbling around, falling in hole and basically giving a physical definition to the term cute. #SelindaExplorers #GreatPlainsConservation

CLimb Every Mountain

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.

Elephant Snack

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.

Elephant Wrestlemania

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.

Elephant Killed for TV Show

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.”

Forest Elephants Under Seige

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 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.