Archive for the ‘Don Wilson’ Category

The Elephant in the Dining Room

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

September 2012

Don Wilson, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderDon Wilson is Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was director of the Smithsonian’s Biodiversity Programs for ten years. A distinguished mammalogist and an internationally recognized authority on bats, his work has taken him around the world conducting field work and research. He has led tours for Smithsonian Journeys to most of the world’s greatest natural history destinations from Antarctica to Africa.  Read his field notes from the trip below:

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An African Safari is one of the most exciting adventures offered by Smithsonian Journeys. I lead them regularly, but never get tired or bored. Every trip offers new and exciting views of animals, interesting people, and something to look forward to every single day. This September’s journey was no exception.

Photo courtesy of Don Wilson

We had a very nice, compatible group of about 20 people, and by our final stop at Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia, we were getting very good at identifying mammals and birds, and were becoming more comfortable with seeing large animals such as elephants and hippos up close and personal. Normally we do this from the safety and comfort of our safari vehicles, but we have the opportunity to do both walking and canoeing safaris at Royal Zambezi, and we had already had some exciting encounters with some elephants.

Photo courtesy of Don Wilson

On our final day, a familiar elephant with a recognizable tear in one ear showed up to wish us good-bye. As we were getting our coffee from the deck where we enjoyed our alfresco meals, the elephant drew closer and closer. Finally it was so close it could scoop the fallen leaves and nuts from the rain gutters on the lodge building. A few folks were still trying to get down to breakfast, and they had to delay their approach until the elephant, a young but quite large bull, had enjoyed his fill.

Photo courtesy of Don Wilson

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To read more about our African Safari trip click here

Last Minute Leopard

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Don Wilson, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderDon Wilson is Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was director of the Smithsonian’s Biodiversity Programs for 10 years. A distinguished mammalogist and an internationally recognized authority on bats, his work has taken him around the world conducting field work and research. He has led tours for Smithsonian Journeys to most of the world’s greatest natural history destinations from Antarctica to Africa. On this last trip, he guided a Smithsonian group on safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Read his field notes from the trip below:

Our African Safari had been an unmitigated success, with one significant blemish: All safaris carry an unstated goal of seeing the “Big Five”— lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant. We had seen all but leopards after wonderful game drives at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana. Our last stop was in Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. With lots of activities to choose from, including game drives, canoe trips, walking safaris, and even fishing for tiger fish in the mighty Zambezi River, we nevertheless felt the pressure mounting to spot the elusive leopard.

On the afternoon of our last day, most folks opted for the game drive, and our two hard working driver-guides, Brian and Simeon, were determined to give it their best shot. We headed into the local game management area, passing through thorn-scrub woodland where they knew leopards were occasionally seen. Heading towards the Zambezi escarpment into the setting sun, our driver Simeon got a quick call from Brian in the other vehicle, explaining that they had just seen a leopard, but it was a fleeting glimpse, as it scurried into the brush before anyone could get a picture.

We joined the other vehicle for traditional ‘sundowners’ of drinks and snacks on a high plateau overlooking the entire river valley, and watched the sun dip over the mountain behind us. Needless to say, our vehicle felt very envious of the others, even if their leopard sighting had been all too brief. Simeon said we would leave 10 minutes ahead of the other vehicle and return to the area where they had seen it, in hopes of spotting it again. By the time we got there, it was getting dark, and I manned the portable spot light while Simeon drove and used his excellent eyesight to scan back and forth intently. I was dutifully shining the spotlight up into every tree, and back and forth across the road as everyone felt their hopes dimming with each passing kilometer. Then, as we headed down into a small ravine, I brought the light back across the road from right to left, and on the left hand side of the road in the bottom of the ravine, a big, beautiful male leopard stood stock-still watching us approach from no more than 30 feet away as we came around the corner.

We had warned everyone to be absolutely silent if we did find a leopard, as they are quite shy and will run immediately if they hear voices. However, the vehicle and the lights do not bother them, and this one allowed us to photograph it as it walked slowly by us and back up the road the way we had just passed. Simeon quickly and quietly called Brian on the radio, and by the time we turned around, the other vehicle was there, and the Leopard moved into the brush beside the road, but still in the range of the spotlight. After a series of photos from both vehicles, we high-fived all around and headed back towards the lodge.

Leopard

Just another wonderful finale to a great safari, right? But wait, it gets better. About five minutes down the road, I was still manning the spotlight, hoping to see a small nocturnal genet or civet, when there was another leopard, walking right down the road in front of us! We followed it slowly, called Brian again, and the other vehicle joined us once more. We took turns following behind this one, another male, but a bit smaller than the first. After another round of photos, we finally did head into the lodge for one last terrific dinner and enough stories to fuel the long trip back to the States and beyond.

Learn more about Don’s upcoming safari trips here.

Book: Animal – The Definitive Guide to the World’s Wildlife

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Animal cover imageThis week’s book is from our own Don Wilson, longtime Smithsonian Study Leader and Curator Emeritus of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Named Senior Scientist in 2000, Don was also Director of the Smithsonian’s Biodiversity Programs for ten years.

For the last 40 years, his work has taken him around the world conducting field work and research. He has led tours for Smithsonian Journeys to most of the world’s greatest natural history destinations from Antarctica to Africa.

Working with co-editor and zoologist David Burnie, Wilson has created a giant reference to wildlife from every corner of the world. From the smallest insects to the largest mammals, this visual guide helps the reader understand and appreciate the fantastic variety of life our planet with vivid photos and interesting facts.

If you’re interested in traveling with Don Wilson, click here to see where he’ll be next.

Wild Dogs on Safari

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Don Wilson is curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was named senior scientist in January, 2000. For the last 30 years, his work has taken him around the world to conduct field work and research. He has led tours for Smithsonian Journeys to most of the world’s greatest natural history destinations, from Antarctica to Africa. Click here to learn more about Don.

Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest game reserve, and has long been one of my favorites. As a long-time Study Leader, I have made lots of trips to Africa over the years, but in the summer of 2007 my wife Kate and I had the good fortune to join a wonderful couple and 19 of their children and grandchildren on the experience of a lifetime. To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they took the whole family on an African safari by private plane.

One of the most memorable destinations was a private lodge and reserve bordering Kruger. It was the 21st of July, mid-winter in the southern hemisphere, and the morning air was nippy when morning tea was delivered to our thatch-roofed rondavel. Warmed by a hearty breakfast enjoyed while overlooking the Sand River, we headed out on our morning game drive in open-topped vehicles.

A wild dog plays around with it's pups. Photo: Don Wilson

A wild dog plays around with its pups in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo: Don Wilson

Having seen a plethora of wildlife, including the “Big Five” in our first two days here, we were on a special mission this morning. Our driver guides had told me about a den of African Wild Dogs, and although I had done research on mammals and led safaris to Africa for 30 years, I had never seen this impressive predator in the wild. Because we were in a private reserve rather than inside the National Park, we were able to ease our way through the scrub forest to a spot very near the den. In fact, we were so close, the pups came right up to the vehicle and were smelling the tires. (more…)