National Geographic Society Newsroom

Inspired By Nature: Build Up 2012 Expedition…

By December 2011, my brother, marine biologist Chris Boyes, and I were already training for our first unassisted crossing of the Okavango Delta. This was planned for June 2012 as part of the 2012 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey. It was the biggest challenge we had ever faced and the excitement and nerves in the months leading...

Fitz 50 logo ROUND no circleBy December 2011, my brother, marine biologist Chris Boyes, and I were already training for our first unassisted crossing of the Okavango Delta. This was planned for June 2012 as part of the 2012 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey. It was the biggest challenge we had ever faced and the excitement and nerves in the months leading up were clear. We had imported our dug-out canoe or “mokoro” from Botswana and were “poling” around the saltwater wetlands and estuaries of Cape Town most days. We were nervous and excited. Inspired by nature! The 2010 and 2011 expeditions had taught us how to navigate the winding channels, be safe, and always be able to prioritise the wetland bird research no matter what the circumstance. The words of our baYei mentors rang in our ears as we remembered previous expeditions and looked forward to sharing time in the wilderness with them. This video was produced during the lead up to the 2012 Okavango Expedition in 2011/12. All footage was captured on our own cameras during the 2010 and 2011, and shares a unique view into our first two crossings and the passion that drives us to journey across this enigmatic wilderness each year…

2012 was made even more special by my wife, Dr Kirsten Wimberger, joining for the first time. She took over all data collection, modifying data capture techniques and streamlining daily reporting. That year we had decided to pole ourselves the over 300km distance to Maun and our good friend, Gobonamang Kgeto, a baYei poler and guide, would be joining us in Chris’s mokoro. Our two mekoro would carry all of our own food supplies and research equipment, remaining independent for the 18-day expedition. Our nine-year wetland bird survey is the most comprehensive waterbird survey ever undertaken in the Okavango Delta, and has already yielded important research data that builds on our understanding of the relationship between waterbirds and the receding floodwaters that expose new nesting and feeding habitat. We like to look at it as “benchmarking” the wilderness, witnessing what it is like now to set up a future that can keep it like that. A future inspired by nature… 

Clinton Phillips /
Steve and Chris Boyes indicating where a a hippo is resting on a palm island. We spent our mornings in the Mombo area moving quietly past sleeping hippos, hoping not to flush them into the channel we were poling along. (Clinton Phillips /

Every year we advance our research by using new, cutting-edge technologies like solar power, the latest tablets, bespoke Apps, satellite connectivity, and GPS. As the research becomes more advanced and more technical, the actual expeditions has become simpler and less dependent on modern technology. Each year we use our GPS less and watch the flow of the water more, using the sun and trees for direction. Each crossing we take less supplies and depend more on the delta to provide food like fresh fish and water lily rhizomes. In 2013, we launched a bespoke Android App designed to support the most comprehensive wetland bird survey ever undertaken. IntoTheOkavango was the beginning of a new partnership with the Office for Creative Research in New York City that aims to share the LIVE! expedition experience with as many people as possible. The initiative focusses on openly sharing all data generated by the research and data loggers measuring our heart rates and number of calories burnt. See this great article on this partnership:

Giles Trevethick
Steve and his wife, Dr Kirsten Wimberger, on their way to Maun on the Boro Channel. This team has works together on most of their projects. (Giles Trevethick)

Just over 6 months after making this video we were on the main channel of the Okavango River, trying not to topple over fully-loaded mokoros into the fast-flowing water. We were being followed by a production crew from Cooked In Africa Films and took them on an unforgettable “un-assisted crossing” of this one-of-a-kind inland delta. Only the Director and cameraman were allowed access to us, as we devised a route across this ever-changing wetland wilderness. The 2012 Okavango Expedition was a huge success. This epic journey has become a pilgrimage for us all, a journey that yields an impossible data set from an impossible transect across Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness. When we arrived in Maun on Day 18, after “poling” over 40km on our last day, we all stepped off onto the riverbank and promised, as is the cae every time, to spend the rest of our lives working to preserve the Okavango Delta in its current state for future generations. We will continue our research over the next few decades and do everything in our power to promote the Okavango Delta as one of our premier wilderness areas and integral part of our natural heritage.

Clinton Phillips /
Steve (nearby) and Chris in front of a herd of lechwe as they pass down the western-side of Chief’s Island. (Clinton Phillips /

In August 2014, we will be crossing the Okavango Delta for the 5th time and will be using this expedition to get ready for the 2015 Okavango River Expedition that will take us 1,700km down the Cuito Subcatchment from the source all the way down to the Okavango Delta. On this two-month-long expedition we will push back the boundaries of open source data and sharing our experiences LIVE with the world via We want to share this extraordinary research expedition down one of the wildest rivers in the world in as many classrooms across the globe as possible, allowing scholars to interact with us on expedition and follow our progress online as our transponders update our location every 20 minutes. We are also going to have a team of scientific collaborators working on our research data from their Labs around the world while we are still on expedition. These scientists will share findings with us and target important questions and themes. We aim to demonstrate that our bespoke App and open source data uploads will enable us to submit a full-length scientific manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal within 7 days of finishing the expedition. Open, free access results in teamwork, sharing and progress. Restricted, controlled access excludes people and stunts progress. We have come to learn on our expeditions that sharing more and caring more will change people forever. We know that sharing the human experience in the wilderness and connecting people to the idea that these experiences are important to us all is our best chance at saving these places. This is what we aim to achieve in the film, Okavango

Giles Trevethick
Chris Boyes and Gobonamang “GB” Kgetho exploring the Mombo area during the 2012 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey. (Giles Trevethick)

Please go see our project pages at the new Wild Bird Trust website:

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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.