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“Walking with a Spear” – Experiences living alone in the Vundumtiki wilderness…

Living alone in the wilderness far away from civilization had long been a dream of mine. The great writers, scholars, prophets and leaders all took inspiration from the wild. Our religious totems, coats-of-arms, symbols, artworks, stories, myths, poems, legends and writings all bear testamant to the profound impact nature has on us. We named rivers, lakes and...

Living alone in the wilderness far away from civilization had long been a dream of mine. The great writers, scholars, prophets and leaders all took inspiration from the wild. Our religious totems, coats-of-arms, symbols, artworks, stories, myths, poems, legends and writings all bear testamant to the profound impact nature has on us. We named rivers, lakes and regions after the wild animals that once thrived there. The innate beauty and perfection of wilderness is the entry point for the re-affirmation of our connection to nature and profound realizations about the ways in which we interact with it. Read here about my experiences living alone for first six weeks of an intensive 6-month research project on Vundumtiki Island in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Walking alone and unarmed in this wilderness and celebrating real, free life with every step. My personal realizations showed me the essence of that which is “wild” and taught me to see it in myself and embrace it with honest respect and love, as opposed to fear, anxiety and ego. I have yet to take someone to the Okavango Delta or any other wilderness area without them having these same realizations for themselves. The Okavango wilderness is one of Africa’s last remaining truly wild places, a place that echos eternity and can show us how to save this wonderful blue planet we call home….


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Sunrise in front of Vundumtiki Island. A spiritual moment every morning during the dawn chorus... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Dr Steve Boyes standing in front of his LandRover that had made mant trips to Vundumtiki Island. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
A calm breeding herd of African elephant moving through our dusty camp on Vundumtiki Island. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


In January 2007, an Overseas Bursary from the British Ecological Society and a grant from Wilderness Wildlife Trust enabled me to establish my first dedicated research camp for the most in-depth study of the breeding biology of an African parrot ever undertaken. I had just returned to Botswana from a year writing up my PhD in Prof. Steve Beissinger’s Lab at the University of California (Berkeley) and doing presentation on Botswana for Wilderness Safaris ( Prof. Beissinger is the world’s foremost authority on the mating systems of wild parrots having studied parrotlets in Venezuala for almost 20 years. The student corpus was both interactive and competitive, stimulating me to advance myself everyday as a scientist and endeavor to “stick my head above the grass”. Give talks, share your passion, and never stop working at it. Never give up. UC Berkeley is the kind of place that makes you dream of the impossible. Everyday in the lab I would redraw the layout of my research camp on Vuntimtiki Island, plot the nest box locations on maps of the area, and visualize the reality of undertaking this ground-breaking research deep in the Okavango wilderness. I knew that I would have to build a research camp, find volunteers, and somehow put together and erect 105 nest boxes before the Meyer’s parrots started breeding in late February. I knew I had to do all of this alone for the first 6 weeks and the idea both excited and scared me…


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Sunrise lights up a cloudy sky after a massive storm. Simply amazing, amazing stuff. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


LandSat 2004
Satellite image of the Okavango Delta with the locations of Maun and Vundumtiki Island. (Corona 2004)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Vundumtiki and beyond. This was the study area for the Meyer's Parrot Project. Paradise... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


By mid-January, my LandRover 110 Defender was pulling out of Maun (see map) in convoy with a fully-loaded 5-ton truck (called “Tony Pony”) en route to the most significant experience of my life… Our journey began at 5am when we loaded the 5-ton truck with all the research camp supplies and equipment, building materials, nest boxes, fuel, generators, etc. and got underway before the early morning traffic began on our only road. On my way past the Maun airport I saw a good friend walking to work. We had chatted about the upcoming expedition to Vundumtiki Island the night before over some beers at the river lodge. He waved, gave a thumbs up, and smiled enthusiastically.  I reciprocated by smiling and giving an “island-style” thumbs up, but inwardly seeing him brought to the surface a growing feeling of anxiety and panic. These are the two feelings that will kill you in the wilderness. If you cannot control them or shut them out, you are well and truly done for. Without dispair or stress I began sobbing emotionally with a smile on my face. I was more excited than I had ever been in my life. There was just too much nervous energy and I cried all the way past the “buffalo fence” and into the Moremi Game Reserve. Soon after crossing the reserve boundary I was greeted by a large bull elephant that simply would not step out of the road. Like a psychiatrist, he stopped me in my tracks, flapped his ears strongly, and snapped me out of the dominant feelings of being exhilarated, overwhelmed and nervous. From that point forward I was the calm Buddhist monk impervious to hardships of life in the wilderness. Nothing was going to get to me, not even the anticipation of what was going to happen next as I drove deeper and deeper into this remote and desolate Mopane wilderness above the Okavango Delta…


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
This endangered Rowan antelope appeared from nowhere in a remote part fo the Mopane desert on my way to Vundumtiki... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Wild dog pup playing with another pack member. Awesome moments... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Two sister lionesses from the "Kubu Pride" share a moment on Vundumtiki Island near my camp. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


The 313-km sand track all the way around the top of the Okavango Delta to Vundumtiki Island had on previous occasions taken me between 14 and 38 hours to complete using my LandRover. Surrender your concentration for a second and you will get stuck, and spend the better part of a day or night cutting trees, digging trenches, and building new road or bridges in the blazing heat or chilled Kalahari darkness. I had learnt how to watch out for specific grass and tree species that indicated keep, loose sand. Seeing a stand of Kalahari apple-leaf trees up ahead meant put your foot flat on the gas and get that “turbo” humming, because you are going to need it. After days and nights, hour upon hour, on the “Tsetse Fly Control Line” or TFC Cutline I could now picture the 1,000-year-old riverbeds and floodplains that I was driving across. I knew this road well, but, from past experiences, knew that it would take every scrap of my will power to get to Vundumtiki. Before and since I have only ever undertaken this journey alone, preferring to pick up the research team from an airstrip near Vumbura Plains Camp (about 3 hours from Vundumtiki Island) and not take on the added responsibility of their lives on this remote dirt track where nobody is going to help you. No one. A grueling sand track where there are ultimate consequences when you get stuck without water or injure yourself, and that passes through territory that you can expect will teach you something about yourself and the wilderness. The best you can do is live curious, stay focussed, stay calm, and never give up…


It took me over 35 hours non-stop for me to get through the deep sands and rainwater that plagued the TFC cutline all the way from Maun to Vundumtiki in 2007. I lost the 5-ton truck when I chose to go through the game reserve and never found it again after getting stuck in the Kwai area and spending the whole dark night moving all of my fuel, supplies and provisions 1km by hand through the deep sand after emptying both the LandRover and the trailer to get out of particularly deep sandy section. It took over 100 small Mopane trees to build a raft on top of the sand for the Landie to ride on top of and build up enough momentum to get through to the other side of this relict lagoon I was driving through. A thousand years ago I would have been a few feet underwater with hippos. Now I was surrounded by kalahari apple-leaf trees and 5-foot deep loose sand that is impossible to even walk over…


I eventually arrived at Vundumtiki Island at sunset having not slept for days and with a massive thunderstorm bearing down on the island. The 5-ton truck arrived, by coincidence, a few minutes after I arrived on the island and unceremoniously dumped all the supplies in a central place near my chosen campsite. All I had was the time to unpack large tarpaulins and cover myself and all the supplies before the storm of the century arrived. Rivers of water passed under and over the tarpaulin and there was no chance myself or the supplies were going to stay dry. I spent the whole night wet, tired, lonely and scared. I was so intimidated by the surrounded untamed darkness that I would not even let my head touch the tarpaulin for fear of something grabbing me from the outside. I heard noises that were not there and lived on nervous energy all night, remaining under the tarp until daylight without sleeping. By early the next morning just before sunrise, the rain stopped in time for a new day, a new beginning on Vundumtiki Island. For some reason I decided not to eat until I had built the main area and storage rooms. Although I could feel the wilderness all around me, it still scared me and I was driven to establish a safe place as soon as possible and at all costs. This was a small indication of the madness that was about to follow….


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
"Ghost in the darkness" - A Pel's fishing owl keep a lookout... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Elephant approaching camp at night. Visitations like this by old bulls were common. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
The moon over Vundumtiki seems so close that you can touch it. With every passing day in the wilderness the moon becomes more and more important. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


I took me three days of winching ropes into trees, weaving the roof tarpaulins, climbing trees, cutting grass, hooking up generators, and erecting tents to establish the office space, storerooms, a kitchen and dining area, sleeping quarters, and workshop space. It was on Day 4 since arriving at Vundumtiki that I sat down and had my first meal other than dried fruit, nuts and water. I had been in a state of controlled panic for those four days, stomach in a knot, and hell bent on establishing my space on this wild island. My first meal was canned mussels with seafood sauce on noodles. I was not to see fresh produce until the volunteers arrived.


My new hosts were not only Wilderness Safaris, who must be thanked for their longtime logistical and infrastructural support of our projects in the Okavango, but also over four hundred chacma baboons that roosted every night in the tall African ebony trees on the north-eastern peninsula of Vundumtiki Island, close to the site of an old Wilderness Safaris camp that I worked at and where I had located the new research camp. Every evening an endless train of baboons would filter past the campsite, congregating on the open floodplain when they were comfortable the island was safe. They would all arrive just before sunset in their hundreds to compete for the best, tallest roost trees. They moved across the floodplain and open grassland in the middle of the island with the determined, plodding pace of fans filing into a sports stadium or rock concert. They all had somewhere to go… The large troops with babies and juveniles kept to themselves, the over 20 bands of young males were far more difficult to deal with. They had time on their hands, were organized and direct in their approach, and constantly dared each other to go further into my camp, to break into my storage tent, to rip open containers, and so on. So it escalates… If you are not there to break this cycle, the end result is twenty baboons ripping through every possession that you have until there is just a wet pile of tangled pieces mixed with baboon faeces (from when you scared them) and important documents. Baboons literally “shit” themselves when startled and leave the scene in haze of excrement.


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Vundumtiki Camp in late summer ready for the thunderstorms and winds. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
There are over 400 chacma baboons that roost in the tall African ebony trees that flank Vundumtiki Island, comprising three large troops of over 100 individual and numerous bands of sub-adult males. A baboon wonderland... (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild bird Trust
Vundumtiki Camp during early winter. We had to bring in a furnace to keep warm at night. (Steve Boyes/Wild bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Bathroom built on the floodplain. We only used biodegradable soaps and enjoyed a warm shower every night. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
While on a walk we came across four small warthog piglets feeding on something. When they scattered we aw this fresh baboon skull. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


To this day I am embarrassed by the way I reacted to their interest in who I was and the additions I was making to the island. They simply wanted to understand what was going on and whether I was holding out on them? The baboons that broke into my storage tent ended up destroying a lot and investigating everything, but found very little to eat that they recognized as food. One individual actually took a bite out of each of over 90 toilet rolls to check whether any of them were edible. Apparently none of them were…. Newly alone you react to these pressures very differently. By Day 6, I was already in open dialogue with the baboon hierarchy and was beginning to obsess about their next attack. I had fortified the storage and sleeping areas, and was regularly using flares and bangers to scare them off. I even erected a large print of a male leopards and even played back recordings of leopard calls. These efforts worked once before they learnt that the leopard was made of cardboard and the calls were coming from my LandRover. My interactions with these proud wild baboons on this faraway island in the Okavango Delta were to change, as I rediscovered my place in the order of things…


My efforts to scare off the baboons did, however, manage to attract the attentions of the local leopard, “Little Gideon”. He had been watching me for some time and knew that I was most vulnerable during shower time, and therefore, made his first appearance while having a bucket shower on Day 7. He did not stay to chat and simply moved on calmly after a second or two looking directly at me. I don’t know whether he was saying “hello”, “welcome” or “go away”. Soon after departing he was spotted by the baboons, who did not like this at all and screeched their displeasure and unease for hours until they were comfortable that the irritated leopard was gone. So began a new, more harmonious relationship between myself and the baboons. I would react every time they called out an alarm call by driving or walking out there to see what the commotion was about. They simply walk past my camp and do not roost above it. Over the coming weeks I was to see lion, leopard, and wild dog running on or near the island due to their calls…


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Steve boyes taking of photograph in the rearview mirror of the LandRover during the 6 weeks alone. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
The cubs from the "Kubu Pride" that frequent Vundumtiki Island. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
"Eye of the Leopard" - Little Gideon walking straight past me during my time alone on Vundumtiki Island. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Vine Snake appeared right next to me one afternoon in front of the floodplain. There is no anti-venom for this deadly species. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


I had known “Little Gideon” for over 4 years and seen him grow up in this territory that he had now taken over. He had figured out how to hunt baboons at night by scaring them out of their roosts and successfully discouraging other males from taking over this coveted territory. We had walked into each other many times before during my PhD research on Vundumtiki Island. Or rather I happened upon him unaware that he was there and he decided to interact with me. Interactions with wild big cats have been some of the most intense experiences of my life. It is very hard to describe the depth of the interaction between a human being and a powerful, wild, solitary cat like a leopard. Just know when it happens for the first time that the leopard is listening intently to your heart beat and breathing, while looking at your eyelids and watching your hands very, very closely. Little Gideon like most other animals instinctually knew that humans are most dangerous when holding something. My goal was for him to see a calm, in-control human being standing there with a potentially dangerous flashlight. I never got this completely right, so he would test me by moving his position a bit closer or even behind me. Again, we would go through the process of measuring each other up. This would continue for minutes or seconds until both of us could feel the tension break. I unclenched by butt cheeks and moved for the first time. He started licking his coat or moved off slowly to continue what he was doing, thanking me on the way out for not giving his position away by looking back briefly to share a glint in his eye. Awesome, awesome interactions that are amplified by the ultimate consequences that come with being alone in a faraway wilderness.


My next mission by Day 8 was to build 105 nest boxes from the pre-cut supplies dropped off by the 5-ton truck. This was a huge job that would take most of the skin off my hands, but, in some ways, was a wonderful repetitive therapy session. I also felt like I was now, at last, getting stuck into the research project and became more upbeat and cheerful, spending my days getting songs stuck in my head and working tirelessly on the nest boxes. Within three days I had constructed all the nest boxes using a cordless drill and some ingenuity. Now these boxes were no good to me on the ground and I urgently needed to get them up into tall hardwood trees according to the experimental design that I focussed on for several months at UC Berkeley. Things were going well… I had great momentum and was feeling energetic. I managed to put up 10 nest boxes on the first day, 15 on the second, and then on the third day I was busy erecting my third nest box and it happened. To this day I can’t tell you exactly how it went down, but I remember being at the top of the ladder about 1 mile from camp with a 30-pound nest box in my arms and almost suddenly simply could not do it anymore. I could not lift the nest box onto the mountings I had already put up in the tree. I could not even descend the ladder for an hour or so. Next thing I knew I was at the camp sitting without the LandRover sitting at a small table in front of the main tent. I can not remember too much about the build up over the days before, but two days prior to this happening I had discovered a pride of lions with cubs on the island for the first time since arriving on the island. I remember starting to talk to my tools, the LandRover, the pots and pans, and then advanced to the resident tree squirrels, arrow-marked babblers, slender mongoose, and little bee-eaters. I would describe the experimental design of the research project in great detail to myself or the squirrel with opposing argument and suggestions like I was at a workshop. Delegates even congratulated each other on particularly exciting new ideas and suggestions. Writing it now makes it sound like madness, but back then it made perfect sense. I needed someone there to agree or disagree with me…


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Dr Steve Boyes posing with the nest boxes he built on Vundumtiki Island. Two weeks alone on the island and going strong...? (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust) Twitter:!/drsteveboyes
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
"Little Gideon" was a young male leopard that used to hunt leopard on Vundumtiki Island. We interacted with him many times. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Chameleon walking a blade of grass towards the photographer. Cautious and inquisitive. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


I sat at that table for two whole weeks. I did not go to the Landrover or walk more than 300 feet from camp in search of firewood. I just sat there. I had a “hollow” head and nothing on my mind, and fell into mute silence. Perhaps this had happened because something had snapped inside me after all the simulated conversations and hard work. There were no beers around the fire with friends. I now had to deal with the reality of being alone in the wilderness. It was like being in a constant state of meditation. A feeling of simple openness and peace. On the third day, however, I used a small axe and a saw to cut down several large waterberries in front of camp that were obscuring my view. I then sat for another 10 days in silence at the desk and thought about very little beyond what what happening right in front of me. A lone bull elephant walked through camp and grumbled when he found me in his way. A slender mongoose inspected the area around my feet without noticing me. A little bee-eaters flitted in and out from a nearby perch – I counted the number of insects each one captured… Four big male kudu and three stunning giraffe would visit silently everyday letting an eye wonder in my direction as a greeting when they walked past. Anything more would have been rude… Little Gideon visited once to hunt baboons. Many, many small and large visitors came and went each offering a unique interaction, each bringing a unified message of kinship in the wilderness. We are ALL one. We are all brothers and sisters. I respect you. You respect me. Be proud of who you are. The baboons would also come past every evening on their way to roost. They would visit, but not loot. We had found our balance and all it took was my breaking the cycle of conflict and mistrust. Sitting there I could feel the universe turning and the pulse of life running through my veins. It was addictive and I woke each morning only to experience it. My experiences sitting on the edge of the floodplain all day and night for two weeks had brought about a sudden and fundamental change in me. I had always loved and respected the wild, but now I truly felt like I was part of it. I had been reborn in the wilderness. My previous four years living in the Okavango Delta, while working for Wilderness Safaris and doing my PhD fieldwork, had been my preparation for this experience. My desire to set up the Meyer’s Parrot Project by myself had been born somewhere…


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Red lechwe at sunrise in front of camp at Vundumtiki. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)
Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Becoming one with nature is very important when spending time in the wilderness. The feeling of oneness is inspiring. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)


From my first day in the Okavango Delta in 2001, I had been building towards this realization, the realization that wilderness areas like the Okavango Delta system function as a living organism, regulating and maintaining itself, maturing and changing – evolving with the unpredictability and creativity of a conscious being.  When you open yourself to this you begin to see and hear that this place is heaving, beating, calling and celebrating life – an abundance of life and spontaneity that cannot be replicated. The complex scenes that we cannot fully comprehend, the sudden and coordinated arrival and departure of hundreds of pelicans on one day and their sudden departure the next, the synchronised arrival of migrant bird species after the first rain, elephant migrations, thousands of African openbills flying East in the morning and west in the evening, the overnight birth of thousands of impala in November, the swirling, diving, thundering flocks of millions upon millions of quelea birds, and the violent thunderstorms that prowl around the open floodplains in the afternoons. The power of the wilderness is awesome and primordial, a vision from the “Big Bang” to this very moment, unharmed by the managing, taming and domineering hand of man.


My time in the Okavango Delta has been a period of exponential growth both in regard to my understanding of natural systems and myself. The opportunity presented to me in moving here, was the gift of time in the wilderness and exposure to the immeasurable influence of the natural world on the human mind. There is something in the quiet appreciation of the natural rhythms that regulate and cleanse wilderness systems. The only word I have for the functioning of these systems as a whole and the behavior of the wildlife within them is, “honesty”. Something that is in short supply in our modern society. There is no second-guessing the intentions or motives of an animal as you observe it surviving and interacting with their neighbors. There are no issues related to fairness or trust, all you have is an infinitely complex tapestry of family, life, death, creativity, colour and environment. A web of life we will never completely understand, and therefore, are naïve to think we could ever manage, manipulate or protect through intervention. Every action that we initiate within a wilderness system has a ripple effect into the future.  Every action that we initiate takes something away from what is wilderness, takes something away from that which our souls need as a benchmark.


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
At the end of 6 months living on Vundumtiki Island conducting the most in-depth study of the breeding biology of an African parrot ever undertaken. Here I am listening for Meyer's parrots at an active nest cavity using a directional microphone. (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust) Twitter:!/drsteveboyes


An experience in a wilderness area such as the Okavango Delta is not about seeing a lion, an elephant, a giraffe, a leopard, or a cheetah, it’s about those times you have on the mokoro (dug-out canoe), walking unarmed in the bush, and spending time in silent meditation or even awareness. These are your opportunities to experience true wilderness, to hear it all around you, to see it, to feel it, and through this appreciate the magnitude and complexity of this tapestry. After the long silence for two weeks I made a point, in between putting up nest boxes, of walking with my spear into the bush to be with my new neighbors. I would walk with one of the troops of baboons or vervet monkeys that I encountered on each walk. As long as you are calm and open about what you are doing and where you are, they would accommodate me and allow me to join them. I spent afternoons walking with kudu, lechwe, banded mongoose, and even an old bull elephant doing his rounds. Walking quietly through the bush by yourself you begin to realize that the wilderness is alive below the grass, in the tallest trees, in the air above you, and in the wildlife you see around you.  The only way in which I can relate this feeling of connectivity to something so amazing, so primordial to a person that has never been in a wilderness area is through the following analogy:


“You are in your home, in your urban area, in that secure and safe corner at night, and the lights go out…. You instantly feel uneasy, get pins-and-needles, and start looking around for a candle or a flashlight. That feeling of something lurking in the dark silence is the “wild”.  It’s the wild saying, “I’m here, I’m still here. No matter how much we become separated, I am still here, around you, and within you”. For those brief moments in the darkness, all the fluff we surround ourselves with is gone.  All the marketing, all the colors and noise, the television, the magazines, the objects and possessions, all our clutter is gone, giving what is wild in us a chance to speak out. Time spent in the wilderness allows us to experience this energy in its purest form. An overwhelming feeling of fear, fascination and peace, and in the Okavango Delta we have opportunity to be completely overwhelmed by and immersed in a place not unlike what you would have found 30 000 years ago.”


Societies in the modern world have separated themselves from natural rhythms and the ebb of the universe through the use of human dates and memories to mark times for celebration and commemoration. Ancient societies and cultures, such as the San, the Aborigine, and the Native Indians of the Americas, all celebrated according to the natural rhythms of the environment and cosmos. They used the rising of stars, the moon and the sun, the summer solstice, the winter equinox, the seasonal arrival and departure of wildlife, and the ripening of fruits, nuts and berries for collection, as times for celebration and memorial. Through this synchronisation of their societies with the natural rhythms these peoples not only felt a connection to the environment around them, but also associated the natural environment with their religious beliefs, ancestors, and personal well-being.  Respect for the environment was inevitable and an ecocentric ethic the norm.  Today, we create artificial climates that remain unchanged, we live under lights for most of the day and night, and we do not look at the sky for the time anymore.  As a result of this separation we have adopted a utilitarian environmental ethic, whereby trees are grown to be cut down, bird and animal species are shot because they are beautiful, and rhino are conserved because they are valuable.  We must change…


“Walking with a spear” is a metaphor for being truly alive everyday of your life. Wild animals have seen us moving respectfully around the African bush with spears, bows and arrows for over 100,000 years. Watch how any animal reacts differently if you are holding something in your hands and look at them directly or point at them. They instinctually know that this is dangerous behavior and should be avoided. It is a very special connection for something to be hard-coded into the wilderness, and modern man walking with spear is one of those things. Now a spear does not make you the most dangerous creature in the bush like a firearm does, but it does help re-establish your contract with the wilderness. This binds us to always respect the rights and freedoms of other animals and never seek out unnecessary interactions. Never waste when you are cutting or killing and always say a prayer of thanks for everything that you receive. When a lion or a leopard kills prey you can see that they are very mindful about what they are doing. We must always be the same. Mindful of the ecosystems and communities that we live in, balancing and moderating our needs with those of others. Our modern society needs to start again. We all need to “walk with a spear” once again, be proud of our place on this blue planet, and celebrate the remaining wilderness areas on earth, below the waves, across the open grasslands, through the oldest forests, and over the highest mountains. Go find the “wild” in your garden, at the park, or in a remote wilderness area. We need to start caring more, sharing more, and building a sustainable future in partnership with nature.


Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust
Sunset over Vundumtiki Island in the Okavango Delta - "In wilderness is the preservation of the world" (Henry David Thoreau) (Steve Boyes/Wild Bird Trust)

Go to Wilderness Safaris to find out more about booking your next trip to the Okavango Delta:

See the National Geographic Expeditions that Dr Steve Boyes will be joining at:

Also see the last National Geographic News Watch blog on the Okavango Delta:

Please also follow me on Twitter:!/drsteveboyes

About National Geographic Society

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Steve Boyes
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.