In this podcast episode renowned British explorer, conservationist, author and photographer, Levison Wood, speaks to Charlie Mayhew, CEO of Tusk, about his most recent expedition in the spectacular Botswana landscape, which has been captured by Channel 4 in its latest series, Walking with Elephants.
Levison, a Tusk Ambassador, speaks about his love of elephants from when he was a child, to his thrilling journey trekking alongside these magnificent animals on their annual migration across Botswana, from the salt pans of the Kalahari Desert to the rich and sprawling grassy plains of the Okavango Delta.
The discussion begins with Levison explaining where his love and interest for the planet began which led him to his career as a conservationist and explorer. “I’ve always been fascinated by wildlife ever since I was a kid, I think like a lot of youngsters I was inspired by people like David Attenborough, and other great conservationists.”
As well as this, Levison was also inspired by the late artist David Shepherd and his incredible paintings of African elephants, “I just thought, as a 10-year-old boy, wow, this guy gets to travel around Africa painting pictures of elephants. I mean, what a remarkable life.” It was from this moment onwards Levison’s love and interest in elephants and conservation began.
As a conservationist, Levison’s first big break came when he took part in the Walking the Nile expedition in 2013. Taking nine months to complete, he walked the entire length of the river Nile, crossing six countries. Levison explains how he saw firsthand some of the challenges that communities living alongside wildlife face. As well as living in extreme poverty, it is also easy to be tempted into working in poaching and operating in the illegal wildlife trade. This is why he goes on to explain the importance of communities protecting animals, “I think it’s very important that the local people see the benefit of wildlife and I think that’s a great part of what Tusk does, is showing how valuable wildlife is, not just for monetary value, but the long-term aspects.”
If we lose the iconic species, if we lose elephants, rhinos, then that will have an enormously detrimental impact on the economy in the long term.
In Levison’s most recent expedition, Walking with Elephants, he was embedded with a migrating herd of elephants crossing the spectacular Botswana landscape. Here, he reflects on this incredible experience, “it was amazing to be so close to probably the most iconic species in Africa, and really get to know them and understand their behavior and social structure and a bit about their psychology and how they think and operate as family units.”
It was a real privilege to spend so much time in a place where there is still wilderness left.
It was this journey that inspired Levison to write a book called The Last Giants, which looks at the rise and fall of the African elephant. With elephant numbers halving in his lifetime alone, Levison reflects on why something needs to be done. “I go way back to the early extinctions and the human impact going back to prehistoric times, all the way through to the modern issues surrounding poaching and trophy hunting and ultimately, that the crux of the matter is habitat loss.”
There are already 7.7 billion people in the world and this is only set to increase, especially in Africa, with the population set to double, meaning that villages and towns will only get bigger, which will jeopardise elephant habitats. This is why we have to learn about consumption and being sustainable, “we’ve got to really act now if we want to save them.”
Through this fascinating podcast, Levison Wood and Charlie Meyhew really highlight the importance of conservation and looking after our planet and animals, inspiring us all to try and make small changes to our everyday to create a brighter future where the African elephant is still a part of it.
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