Levison Wood is an explorer, writer and photographer whose work has featured around the world. Just before the Coronavirus pandemic, he travelled around beautiful Botswana to follow a herd of migratory elephants across the country and to document the conservation going on to protect elephants and other wildlife. His magnificent adventure was documented for a new series ‘Walking with Elephants’, airing on Channel 4 this month, and his new book, ‘The Last Giants’. We caught up with Levison to hear how he is using this special time to reflect on the incredible moments he captured on his journey. All images captured on the Leica SL2.
The photographs above show women of the San and Bantu communities fishing using traditional handmade baskets on the edge of the Okavango Delta. When they catch nothing, they resort to eating the flowers and stems of water lilies. The stoicism of these women is remarkable. Despite the constant danger from attacks by hippos, crocodiles and elephants, the women go out daily to try and provide food for their families. While fishing they sing local songs which not only provide entertainment but also scare away the wildlife. One of these women told me that she had tragically lost her father to a charging elephant nearby, just a few years earlier. Many locals I met said that they should have the right to kill the elephants. But this lady disagreed, believing the elephants have as much right to exist as us, and that humans are a guest in elephants’ ancestral lands.
This magnificent beast is a bull elephant from the ‘Okavango Delta’. I love this image in black and white as it gives a suggestion of the scale of this imposing giant. Once I returned home, I auctioned three of these as prints at a charity event for the Tusk Trust, raising some money for a very worthy cause.
In this image, a soldier from the Botswana Defense Force shows me a 40kg (90lb) elephant tusk, found just a few days previously in a cache on the edge of the Okavango Delta. Ivory poaching across Africa is responsible for the deaths of upwards of 20,000 elephants a year and their numbers have plummeted from over a million just 10 years ago to under 450,000 now. The elephants with the biggest tusks are especially targeted by poachers, meaning fewer and fewer ‘big tuskers’ are able to breed, resulting in elephants with smaller tusks, or no tusks at all, passing on their genes. Unless this plundering is stopped, it is likely that elephants will face extinction in our lifetimes.
A pair of lions took their time with this kill. Whilst walking along with my trusty guide Kane, he heard the groans and roars of lions behind some nearby long grass. He told us to ‘stay strong, let’s go’ and with only a spear for protection, he marched towards the noise. We found two lions and a badly injured buffalo. The lions didn’t want to risk injury or expending too much energy, so incapacitated the buffalo before waiting for it to expire in the midday heat. It wasn’t an easy thing to watch but, a reminder of the brutality of the African bush and the circle of life.
Here, my safari guide, Kane, is wearing the traditional clothing of his tribe, the River San. The San people are thought to be the oldest race of humans alive. Kane described himself as a bushman and every day prayed to his ancestors that we would not be eaten by lions or trampled by elephants. In the wilds of Botswana, both were a real possibility. We spent twenty-seven days together trekking across the country following the herds of elephants towards the Okavango Delta.
Finally, this is my first encounter with an elusive wild leopard. I was very lucky and managed to get within two meters of the beautiful beast. Botswana has a huge variety of species and I hope that with the efforts of some great people and organizations across Africa, the habitat and animals can be protected for future generations to come.
Taking this time to self-reflect and appreciate the wonderful adventures I have been on has helped me gain a new perspective as a photographer and has also helped spark new ideas. What has been your most inspiring adventure to date?
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