Changing Planet

#Okavango14: Elephants Will Sense Your Calm

Imagine: Camping among lions, hyenas, jackals, baboons and elephants. Having thousands of birds fly overhead daily. Poling—and dragging—a boat through hippo and elephant trails. The Okavango Delta is a wild place, and the richest I’ve ever seen in terms of biodiversity.

An African bush elephant crossing the Zambezi River in Zambia. (Photo © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

There are more than 3,500 lions in the entire Okavango catchment, and 1,500 in the delta itself; 550 individual bird species; and 60,000-80,000 elephants that migrate here during the dry season every year.

Listen to these audio diaries to hear the sounds of the delta and more about Gregg’s experience:

Each of our campsites has huge elephant dung piles scattered around, and I even had an elephant watch me set up my tent one evening. The African Bush Elephants migrate through northern Botswana, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe before entering the delta during the flood season. They leave with the first rains in November, moving 40 miles a day.

When interacting with large wildlife like this—or any wildlife for that matter—one of the most important things is to remain calm. Interacting with wildlife can be dangerous, but if you’re calm, the animals can sense that. This situational awareness makes all the difference: You react to how you sense an animal is feeling, and the animal, in turn, is sensing everything going on in your body through body language and the pheromones you put out.

Saddle billed storks in the Okavango Delta. (Photo by PanBK on en.wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0)
Saddle billed storks in the Okavango Delta. (Photo by PanBK on en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

As Shah said during our Google+ Hangout, it’s respecting the situation you’re in. He recalled hearing the deep rumble of an elephant on our second day on the water. We pulled the mokoros over and waited until the elephant passed in front of us.

Gregg Treinish is Executive Director of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. Learn more at, on our Field Notes blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved in future Okavango expeditions.

Read More From the Okavango Expedition

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Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. 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 Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow. Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.
  • Hennie

    Gregg, the soundcloud recordings are amazing! Hearing all the bush sounds and people walking by while laying in bed with my earphones makes me feel like I’m right there.

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