National Geographic Society Newsroom

#okavango14: The First-Ever Live-Data Expedition Across the Okavango Delta

For the first time ever a group of National Geographic explorers will be sharing their every move, their research, what they are seeing, what they are hearing, their very heartbeats, and their thoughts in real-time via satellite while exploring one of the world’s richest wilderness areas, Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This team of baYei River Bushmen,...

For the first time ever a group of National Geographic explorers will be sharing their every move, their research, what they are seeing, what they are hearing, their very heartbeats, and their thoughts in real-time via satellite while exploring one of the world’s richest wilderness areas, Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This team of baYei River Bushmen, scientists, artists, writers, photographers, bloggers, naturalists and engineers will be taking the very pulse of Africa’s last remaining wetland wilderness. This ground-breaking expedition launches on the 17th of August and will most likely finish on the 3rd of September. Go to:

Midway through, you can join us for a live video chat via Google+ Hangout on Air at 10:00am EDT on Friday, August 22, 2014. (Learn more about how you can participate.)

Screenshot of the site that will go live on the 17th of August. “Jer”, “Gregg”, “Shah”, and “Steve” will start moving, tweeting and sharing their sightings as they go! Live people exploring one of the remotest wilderness areas in the world… (Image courtesy Jer Thorp)

This National Geographic project aims to share our live experiences while we generate the necessary scientific and survey data to better protect and monitor ecological function and biodiversity in this important wilderness. This is how it will work: All research data and wildlife sightings will be uploaded live, so that you will literally be able to follow our progress in real-time as we pole across the Okavango Delta over three weeks. The idea is for you to be able to watch us weave our way across a patchwork mosaic of channels, floodplains, lagoons and thousands upon thousands of islands. Tweets from the expedition members will also be live, providing a narrative and insights from the explorers and the rest of the team.

"Angry hippo bull" (Morkel Erasmus Photography /
“Angry hippo bull.” (Photo courtesy Morkel Erasmus Photography/

There will also be an automated system taking photographs and recording sound as we go along, but these can only be uploaded when we stop briefly during the day. The heart rate data and full image and sound data sets will be uploaded at the end of each day. This is the first time anything like this has been attempted in such a remote wilderness area. The automated system puts you in control, providing a raw, unfiltered view into life on expedition in one of Africa’s wildest, least-accessible landscapes. Join us!

"Sunset elephants drinking"... (Mario Moreno Photography /
“Sunset elephants drinking.” (Photo courtesy Mario Moreno Photography/

The four explorers leading the 2014 Okavango Expedition are Steve Boyes (conservation biologist & expedition leader), Jer Thorp (data artist & architect of, Shah Selbe (conservation technologist & engineer), and Gregg Treinish (adveture scientist & explorer). All four are 2013 Emerging Explorers that have come together to push back the boundaries of what is possible on a scientific expedition in a remote wilderness area. See full expedition team below the blog or on:

"Delta lion" (Andrew Schoeman Photography /
“Delta lion.” (Photo courtesy Andrew Schoeman Photography/

Their unique skill sets will pioneer the research technologies, Apps, and digital storytelling tools that will be used in the 2015 Okavango River Expedition. The 2015 expedition will travel down the length of the Okavango River from its source in Angola over 1,700 km all the way to this unique alluvial fan in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. This year, the expedition team will complete their 5th crossing of the Okavango Delta, travelling over 340km across the central wilderness using dug-out canoes or “mekoro”. The team will be following a long-forgotten route taught to them by the baYei, the first people to enter the central wilderness and witness the incomparable abundance of the “Semombo” floodplains.

"Rushing hippo" (Keith Connelly /
“Rushing hippo.” (Photo courtesy Keith Connelly/

This secret route is a “way”, not a path, and sharing it live via satellite with the world will not enable others to safely complete this strenuous, near-impossible journey across the Okavango wilderness. There is an old baYei saying: “We don’t know where we are going, but we know that we will get there.” Such is the shifting nature of this wetland wilderness. Huge numbers of elephant and hippo, as well as the ever-blooming papyrus, tall grass and reeds re-engineer the flow of the channels and hippo paths we use to cross this enigmatic wilderness.

"Leopard cub safe in a tree" (Brendon Cremer Photography /
“Leopard cub, safe in a tree.” (Photo courtesy Brendon Cremer Photography/

The nervous tension of our approaching surrender to fate and the wilderness is building. Anything can happen and we want you to join us in experiencing the life-changing tonic of one of the last true wildernesses. A place dominated by teeth, claws, tusks, horns and fangs, and not the dominating hand of man. We will encounter crocodiles, hippo, elephant, lion, hyena, leopard, buffalo and rhino unarmed in celebration of the human experience in the wilderness.

"Lion cub drinking" (Fred von Winckelmann Wildlife Photography /
“Lion cub drinking.” (Photo courtesy Fred von Winckelmann Wildlife Photography/

What makes this live-data expedition even more important is the fact that it is open access via our public API. Anyone can re-mix, analyze, or visualize the collected data. Create an image flow that shares a secret view into life on expedition in this remote wilderness. See if you can correlate heart rate spikes with the incidence of large crocodiles. Estimate the abundance of elephants, hippos or other wildlife. Mix the automated sound recordings of wildlife and the trials of expedition life into music – “wild delta trance” or “Okavango folk”? As a scientist or ornithologist you could use aspects of the data in your research and publications. We want you to feel free and share your creativity with us, as we will be showcasing the best, most innovative work after the expedition.

"Little leader - elephants migrating" (Morkel Erasmus Photography /
“Little Leader,” elephants migrating. (Photo courtesy Morkel Erasmus Photography/

School teachers must set up a TV screen or monitor in their classrooms so that their students can follow the expedition and learn from our work in this remote wilderness. If you add #okavango14 to your tweets, we will see them and possibly even respond when we see something important in the feed. If you see us moving off in the opposite direction of the available water, then we are probably lost and would appreciate a nudge in the right direction. If you see a well-wooded island with a nice channel next to it at the end of each day, please tell us, as we would be looking at camping there for the night. Interact, share and inspire those around you to follow us. This is going to be a journey into the unknown for all of us and we look forward to sharing it with you!

Join us for the Google+ Hangout on Air at 10:00am EDT on Friday, August 22, 2014 to be a part of the conversation and see this hidden Eden for yourself.

Meet the expedition team…

Gobonamang Kgetho's portrait


Lead poler and member of the Seronga Polers Trust. GB has crossed the delta 4 times with Steve and is an exemplary ambassador of the Okavango Delta and baYei community. He has appeared in several TV shows with Steve and his team.

Neil Gelinas' portrait


Neil Gelinas is a Producer, Cameraman and Editor for National Geographic. For the past four years, his focus has been making one-hour-documentary broadcast specials following expeditions lead by Nat Geo Explorers-In-Residence Enric Sala and Mike Fay. Okavango will be his first documentary feature.

Steve Boyes' portrait


Steve Boyes did his PhD on the Meyer’s parrot in the Okavango Delta and lived permanently in this wilderness for 7 years. He runs several research projects in the Okavango Delta for the Wild Bird Trust and Percy FitzPatrick Institute, and will be the Expedition Leader on the 2014 Okavango Expedition. This year will be his 5th crossing of the Okavango Delta on dug-out canoes or mokoros. All of this, in preparation for the expedition 1,000 miles down the length of the Okavango River next year in support of the designation of new protected areas and a multi-national UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the entire catchment.

Giles Trevethick' portrait


An environmental management graduate with a passion for wilderness and adventure, Giles cycled two continents, including Africa & South America, and is about to undertake the fourth Okavango Mokoro Expedition with the Wild Bird Trust.

Goitseone Basiamang's portrait


Tom is our strongest poler and has carried us on his shoulders all the way to Maun on three important expeditions. He is the music man and plays the traditional baYei mouth bow, bringing with him the sound of the African wilderness. His music tells a story of life in the wild. Tom is also an accomplished wilderness guide and storyteller.

Chris Boyes' portrait


“My love and appreciation for places where natural systems function as they have for millions of years drives my passion to understand and protect these areas. Although primarily a marine biologist, I have had the privilege of working in pristine marine and terrestrial ecosystems. I view the Okavango Delta as the epitome of the perfect terrestrial wilderness I seek.”

Gregg Treinish' portrait


Gregg Treinish founded the nonprofit Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation in 2011, mobilizing outdoor enthusiasts in collaborative efforts to protect our natural world.

National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008, when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor’s 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with ASC.

John Hilton' portrait


For the past four years John has dedicated his life to spending time in the African wilderness, and sharing his experiences with as many people as possible. In 2010 he and his wife, Liz, travelled around Sub-Saharan Africa in their Land Cruiser visiting the national parks and wild places of South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia—an awesome adventure! More recently, John has joined Dr. Steve Boyes at The Wild Bird Trust as a Trustee and Commercial Director.

Pieter Hugo' portrait


Pieter Hugo has an MA degree in English literature, and has published articles in several different magazines and newspapers. Pieter has worked as a nightclub bouncer, a stage manager, a set-builder, and a pyrotechnics and special effects technician. He currently lives in Hogsback, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, where he owns a sawmill and works as a carpenter.

Khunowa Mathare's portrait


Delta navigator and human GPS, Chaps has also crossed the Okavango Delta four times with Steve and has been able to find their way out of remote locations in the delta many times. He is a rock-solid member of the expedition team and an important source of support.

Kgalalelo Mpetsang' portrait


The youngest poler on the expedition. KG joined the 2013 expedition for the first time and proved himself with superb navigational skills as well as his ability to find water when no one else could.

James Kydd' portrait


James Kydd is an international safari guide and wildlife photographer. He is the creator of the multiple-award-winning website

Jer Thorp' portrait


Jer Thorp is a software artist, writer, and educator living in Brooklyn. Coming from a background in genetics, his digital art practice explores the many-folded boundaries between science, data, art, and culture. He is a co-founder of The Office for Creative Research & adjunct professor at ITP.

Shah Selbe' portrait


Shah Selbe is an engineer, conservation technologist, and technology expert working to identify and implement innovative approaches to environmental problems. He works with communities, nonprofits, and developing countries to identify and deploy technologies that could help them with the conservation of their environment. It was this work within ocean conservation, often called “FishNET”, that resulted in National Geographic naming him as one of their 2013 Emerging Explorers. He works to inject low-cost technological innovation into how we monitor and protect some of the most pristine parts of this planet.

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.