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There’s a reason they’re called wild dogs. Just watch them in action jumping, biting, play fighting with each other and the first thing you think is,”These guy are wild dogs.” Then when they go on the hunt their relentless full on pursuit of their prey further cements that reputation. But those same characteristics that some call wild, have made these dogs one of the most successful predators in Africa. When they go after an animal, it’s estimated they come home with a meal about 80% of the time.
I was in Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa where I spent a couple of days with a large pack of wild dogs and filmed the pups as they put on quite a show with their exuberant play. The adults would go off hunting every day and then return to regurgitate a hot meal for the kids. It’s not a recipe you’ll find in the Martha Stewart cookbook.
More recently i was in Zimbabwe at the Singita Pamushana Lodge in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve where I filmed a much smaller pack of wild dogs. Kim Wolhuter, an old friend and filmmaker who’s made several films for National Geographic, has been living on the property for several years and following the wild dogs. We hooked up with Kim who drove us to where the dogs were eating an impala they had killed a few minutes earlier.
Kim, whose father and grandfather were both game rangers in South Africa, has spent most of his life in the bush, so it should have been no surprise to learn he often gets out of his vehicle and runs with the dogs, crashing through the trees and bushes with them when they go on the hunt. Still it’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and it does allow him to capture the kind of footafge you won’t see elsewhere.
I interviewed Kim for my radio show National Geographic Weekend while we were together with the wild dogs. That interview is now up online at national geographic weekend, or as a free podcast on itunes. Wild dogs are now endangered and Kim’s films are helping draw attention to the crisis they face. In this video you can hear part of the interview and see the dogs Kim has been following as well as the ones I filmed playing and jumping around at Sabi Sabi in South Africa.
Nuking Nevada. If you’re worried about someone setting off a nuclear weapon in the United States, it’s a little too late. We’ve already had hundreds of nuclear explosions within our own borders, the atomic fury unleashed by our own government. A little patch of desert in Nevada has been the target of more than nine hundred of those explosions as we developed and tested ever bigger and more destructive weapons.
For a while we even had a program called Operation Plowshare where we attempted to follow the Biblical admonition and beat our swords into plowshares by developing nukes for peace. Clearly that program to build stuff by blowing up stuff didn’t work.
I was reminded of my visits to the Nevada test site this week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend when interviewing Lucy Craft who wrote the story about Japan’s Nuclear Refugees in this month’s National Geographic Magazine. Some of the towns around the compromised Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant are still to this day empty ghost towns.
On the show we discuss Japan and what’s happened after the Fukushima fallout and I also talk about my Nevada visits. Afterwards, I remembered a visit I once made to the National Atomic Museum, a museum where we pay tribute to our unique ability to blowup stuff.
This video has highlights of my atomic museum and Nevada Test Site visits. It’s a blast
Icy adventures. As we head into winter I was thinking back to one of the coldest days of my life. It was 1996 and we were in Minnesota to film a series of adventures for National Geographic Explorer. The day we arrived the temperature was hoovering around zero. That was as warm as it would get for the next week. I wanted to lock myself inside with my arms wrapped around a pot belly stove for the duration of our stay. But we were there to be outside, so I had to distract myself with all kinds of crazy adventures. We did ice fishing, ice carving, stock car racing on an ice track, dog sledding, and kayaking on Lake Superior where the water had the consistency of a frozen margarita.
It was so cold you had to put an electric blanket on the hood of the car at night so the engine would start the next morning. Several times I was sure my fingers had suffered frostbite. And my lips were so numb I could barely talk on camera without sounding like I was drunk. By the final day of our trip in Ely, Minnesota, the temperature had dropped to 60 below zero. We later learned that Ely was the coldest place on the planet on that day. It was also the day we choose to camp out, sleeping in our dog sleds.
I thought about that experience this week when interviewing two of our National Geographic Adventurers of the year on my radio show. Jon Turk and Erik Boomer this year circumnavigated Ellesmere Island by kayak and on skis. No one had ever done it before. You can hear about their frozen saga this week on National Geographic Weekend and hear about my own Minnesota winter exploits. And in this video you can see what it looks like to kayak in a slushy margarita and do an eskimo roll in icy water.
Here’s a hard to believe statistic, by some esitmates there are more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than there are tigers roaming free in the wild in all of Asia. There’s no debating the fact tigers are endangered. This past year I went to India to see tigers in their natural habitat. I was in two of the best places to find them, Kaziranga and Ranthambore National Parks, protected areas set aside specifically as tiger reserves.
There are tigers in both parks, perhaps as many as a hundred in Kaziranga and maybe half that in Ranthambore, and yet it took me several safaris into both to find just one tiger. There was a lot of other wildlife I encountered, so the trip would have been well worth it even if I hadn’t seen the tiger. In Kaziranga there are some 2,000 Indian one-horned rhinos or about three fourth of the entire world population.
The best way to really get off road and into the tall grass in Kaziranga is on elephant back which I did twice. This video shows some of that safari and our rhino encounters. It also has pictures of the one tiger I did see. I’ve also included part of my radio interview this week with National Geographic photographer Steve Winter who took the tiger pictures in this month’s National Geographic magazine. The photos are part of the article called, “A Cry for the Tiger”, which documents the crisis facing these charismatic big cats.
Flying to Cuba is like taking a trip in a time machine. Looking around Havana it’s easy to imagine you’ve been transported to the late 1950′s. The city is not the exotic, bright, shiny, resort destination for the rich and famous that was 50′s Havana rather it’s more like a faded past her prime celebrity of another era. There is enough familiar in the appearance to know it’s the same person who used to excite you, but the beauty has faded and the skin is sagging and wrinkled by the passage of time.
The architecture and the automobiles are the most visible reminders of 1950′s Cuba. The United States economic embargo against the island nation has resulted in more work for car mechanics and less work for new car salesmen. The Detroit chrome and tailfin classics of pre 1960 are everywhere. And in a country with limited cash, there are also more old buildings than new buidings.
But there is a promise of change in the air. There are new rules allowing private ownership of homes and cars. A facelift has begun. Optimism for a better future is sprouting. New rules now make it easier for U.S. citizens to get a special visa to visit Cuba and take direct flights from Miami. If you want to experience this time travel adventure hurry before the country completely changes. I just returned from a week long trip and this video shows a little of what Havana looks like today.
This week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend, I talk about the trip and share a little known Fidel story that was told to me by Roberto Salas, a photographer who was there chronicling the revolution 50 years ago.
One of the benefits of being in the water with humpback whales is that it makes me appear svelte by comparison. That’s not the primary reason I’m snorkeling with humpbacks in the waters of the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic, but it’s a bonus I’ll gladly accept after catching a reflection of myself in my form fitting wetsuit.
This is one of the few places in the world where tourists can get in the water with these huge marine mammals. You don’t really swim with humpbacks, they’re way to fast for even Michael Phelps to keep pace. What happens is the whales spend a good portion of the day in the Silver Bank just resting. They’ll hang near the bottom napping, but being mammals they must surface every five to twenty minutes to breathe. If you spot a whale, or group of whales, or a mother & calf, moving in that sleep-breathe pattern, then you can get in the water and snorkel near them. If the whales are comfortable with your presence they’ll stay in the area.
I was there with Tom Conlin of Aquatic Adventures who has been running trips in the Silver Bank for more than twenty years. He knows how to read humpback behavior as well as anyone and is great at getting people in the water for amazing up close encounters. To me one of the best experiences is being with a mom and a playful calf. The calf in those circumstances will frequently come close out of curiosity and circle the people almost like it wants to play.
I interviewed Tom about the humpbacks of the Silver Bank this week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend. Part of that interview and some of our whale encounters are in this video.
Have you heard the term, “slicker than bat ….. guano”? I think I’ve heard it before, but if not, I know for sure I have experienced it. On two different occasions, assignments for National Geographic have taken me to the bat caves of South Texas and the Devil’s Sinkhole. I was reminded of those experiences this week when talking to National Geographic photographer Joel Satore on my radio show National Geographic Weekend.
Joel was in a bat cave in Uganda when he looked up just as a bat flying overhead dropped a guano bomb. It was a direct hit in his eye. That’s a wet contact, the same as a bite for putting you at risk for a disease the bat might be carrying. The marburg virus had been detected in the cave so Joel was potentially at risk. The only thing to do was fly home and wait twenty-one days to see if he had contracted anything. It was a nerve racking time since death was a real possibility if he had been infected. Fortunately he was fine and you can see his pictures in the current issue of National Geographic Magazine.
But Joel’s story got me thinking about my own bat cave adventures and I shared some of those at the end of the radio show. There was the chance for contracting some airborne diseases in one of the caves I was in, but nothing like the marburg virus. To get into the Devil’s Sinkhole required a long rappel. But it turned out the real challenge wasn’t the rappel, or rabies, or respatory ailments, it was bat guano. I survived the bat caves, however my clothes weren’t as lucky. No matter how many times I washed them, the smell wouldn’t come out and the dog wouldn’t stop chewing them. I finally had to throw them away. This video shows some of the highlights of going into the Devil’s Sinkhole and the Eckert James River bat cave.
Showing off for the girls, pushing and shoving, picking fights, refusing to listen to their mothers, I could be describing teenage boys, but in this case I’m talking teenage male elephants. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference in their behavior, and the similarities were on display when I was at the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa. In the young male groups one minute they would be eating and the next they were butting heads and crossing tusks.
By the way, it seems as if elephants are always eating. You can’t maintain that figure without consuming some super sized portions. This week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend, I talk with Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge guide Brett du Bois about elephant behavior and we also discuss our encounters with rhinos and leopards. This video shows some of the elephant action we witnessed.
I spent a week with Hunter S. Thompson one day in 1988. If that sounds impossible, let’s just say when Hunter was wired and inspired keeping up with him for 24 hours left you feeling as if you’d lost a week somewhere but you couldn’t remember where. I was interviewing him for a story on the Today Show as part of my “Flying the Coupe” series. I started thinking about that day when I saw the trailer for the new Johnny Depp movie, “The Rum Diary” which is based on Thompson’s novel.
Getting him to agree to the interview was made easier by the fact he had a new book, a collection of his columns, coming out. But I had been warned that getting him to actually sit down and do the interview would be the challenge. I believed I had a secret weapon, an irrestible lure, to insure his cooperation, my 1963 red Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible. I was right, Hunter was up for riding in the car and talking about life, writing, politics, and excess. A slight correction, actually he had no interest in riding in the car, he insisted on driving.
As you will see in this video I gave him the keys and then I got in the passenger seat, which may have been riskier than when I climbed through the Khumbu icefall on Everest. Hunter, as was his habit, had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol before we started driving and he brought along a couple of loaded weapons to increase the entertainment factor.
Someday I’ll write the full story of everything that happened that day and night, but for now just enjoy the part of the encounter we deemed suitable for morning television in 1988.
Sleeping outside while surrounded by lions, elephants, hyenas, and hippos, it was a night to remember. I was in Zambia in Southern Africa at Norman Carr’s Luwi Bush Camp. Eralier I had been in a perfectly good room with walls and a real bed, and running water but the chance to go on a walking safari and end the day sleeping in the middle of the bush, on the ground, under a mosquito net proved irrestible. We built five fires in a big circle around the campsite to discourage the wild animals from coming in and interrupting our sleep. Also our tracker stood watch all night for added safety.
We know the animals were all there because we saw their footprints the next morning. We even tried to follow the prints of the lions hoping for a close up eye to eye view. I was with Geoff Calmeyer of Roar Africa on this advebnture and we talk about our experiences on my radio show National Geographic Weekend. This video has part of that interview as well as pictures of our river bed campsite, and some of the animals we encountered on our walking safari.