Dr. Steven Boyes, National Geographic grantee and wildlife biologist
Dr. Boyes has an intoxicating passion for the Okavango and his greatest fear is to see the Delta, as he knows it, disappear. He continues to lead various initiatives to protect endangered species in South Africa believing strongly in the powerful effect of his actions and words – “I will live my life as an ambassador of wilderness and do my best to celebrate these wild places, working every day to ensure they persist for future generations.”
Dr. Boyes has been leading expeditions into Africa’s wild places for more than ten years. A well–published ornithologist from the University of Cape Town’s Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Dr. Boyes grew up in South Africa and has dedicated his life to conserving Africa’s wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. Dr. Boyes spent more than five years living, studying, and guiding in the Okavango Delta, where he worked as a camp manager while doing doctoral fieldwork on the Meyer’s Parrot. In addition, two years ago Dr. Boyes committed himself to undertaking nine annual trans–Okavango expeditions to survey the distribution, abundance, and breeding activity of wetland birds along our 250–kilometer transect route.
Today, Dr. Boyes runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the critically endangered species through high–quality research and communitybased conservation action. His recent efforts in bird conservation have seen him appointed as a Director of the Wild Bird Trust, World Parrot Trust–Africa, and Africa Geographic. Dr. Boyes loves sharing his passion and deep knowledge of Africa’s wild places and its inhabitants with others. He is also a National Geographic Grantee for his work on the Cape Parrot Project and is an expeditions expert for National Geographic Expeditions.
During his projects, Dr. Boyes has worked with a number of film crews. In 2011, he worked with Neil Gelinas from National Geographic to document his research on a recent outbreak of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) in wild Cape Parrots in the Eastern Cape. In addition, Dr. Boyes undertook an expedition with Jerome Hillaire (a French independent filmmaker) in dugout canoes to record his surveying of wetland birds in the Okavango Delta.
Dr. Kirsten Wimberger, Primatologist and Wildlife Researcher and wife of Dr. Steven Boyes
Dr. Wimberger started her formal education in her hometown, at the University of Cape Town, with a BSc in Zoology and Archaeology. Wanting to work on large mammals, her BSc Honours was done at the Mammal Research Institute of the University of Pretoria, with a project determining the age of free-ranging African elephants (Loxodonta africana) using their faecal bolus diameter. Continuing her passion for large mammals, she joined the Brain Function Research Unit of the University of Witwatersrand, where she determined the thermal stress during the transport of mammals for her MSc. She then moved to the University of KwaZulu–Natal where she worked as a research assistant in the School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, where she was responsible for the care and maintenance of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) and Malachite Sunbirds (Nectarinia famosa), among other things. Her passion now extended beyond just wanting to work in the bush and with large mammals, to being involved in animal welfare matters. Her PhD topic thus molded into her perfect project, namely documenting wildlife rehabilitation in South Africa. It was an emotionally difficult project to do, especially when monitoring the postrelease survival of rehabilitated animals, as survival was poor. Post–PhD, she wanted to be involved in a project that could help prevent animals from entering rehabilitation centres in the first place. After moving to the quiet forest town of Hogsback to work on the Cape Parrot Project with Dr. Boyes. She spent many days each month following these monkeys from dawn to dusk collecting data on their behavior, movements and foraging, where the information collected would be used to help conserve this monkey. After completing data collection in March this year, she moved to Cape Town and got married to Dr. Boyes. She is currently writing up the data for submission as scientific papers and investigating conservation measures for the samango monkey while employed as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Baboon Research Unit of the University of Cape Town.
Dr. Wimberger’s work has been filmed by Homebrew Films (local South African production), for probable inclusion in an “endangered animals” series, and by National Geographic (with producer Neil Gelinas) regarding her work with samango monkey behaviors.
Chris Boyes, Marine Biologist and brother of Dr. Steven Boyes
Boyes’ love for the African bush came from a very early age with regular trips to Kruger Park and other natural areas around southern Africa, with his father, Rutledge. In 2007 Boyes went to join his brother, Dr. Steven Boyes, for three months on Vundumtiki Island in the Okavango Delta where he helped Dr. Boyes set up a research camp in order to study the breeding ecology of the Meyers Parrot. It could be said that during these three months in the bush with his brother, walking everyday with just spears in hand, that the true, deep feelings of the sense of pure wilderness were being formulated and understood. Boyes completed his Masters thesis at Stellenbosch University on “The nesting ecology of the leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles along the Maputaland coastline of Zululand.” Since the core data collection for his thesis was completed in 2008, the next couple of years were spent writing his thesis, helping and consulting for the Maputaland Sea Turtle Nesting Program, travelling and doing talks on sea turtles and marine conservation, including one at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Goa, India.
Visiting and studying an extensive list of wilderness regions around the world has added to Boyes’ deeper understanding of the value and rarity of true wilderness and the various socio-economic issues threatening and affecting these areas. Currently, Boyes is working on a coral recruitment survey around D’Arros Island and St. Joseph’s Atoll in the Seychelles.
Dr. Karen Ross, Ecologist and Activist, working primarily in the Okavango Delta
A childhood spent in Kenya fostered in Karen Ross a love of Africa and a passion for nature. She has a doctorate in wildlife ecology from Edinburgh University and has spent most of her life working in Africa, mainly in the Okavango Delta. Author of Okavango: Jewel of the Kalahari, her book was first published as a companion to a BBC three part documentary series of the same title, produced by Partridge Films and winner of the 1988 Golden Panda, for which she was researcher and writer. Staying on in Botswana, she founded Conservation International’s programme there in 1992 and directed it for ten years, living under canvas and raising her daughter Lena Rae near the frontier town of Maun. For 25 years Karen pursued conservation goals in the Okavango Delta and was part of numerous critical conservation activities in Botswana. These included protection of the Okavango Delta from mining threats; from upstream water withdrawals from Namibia; and taking the lead in the dialogue against cattle veterinary fences build in the wilderness surrounding the delta. For the past five years she represented the Wilderness/WILD Foundations and Deutsche Umwelthilfe (BMZ) in collaborating with the government of Botswana, Okavango communities and numerous stakeholders to motivate for the listing of the Okavango Delta as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Okavango Delta Nomination Dossier was submitted to UNESCO in 2012.
The Okavango River begins in Angola, flows through a small portion of Namibia and continues to Botswana, where it empties into the Kalahari Desert, forming the world’s largest inland delta – The Okavango. For thousands of years the Banoka and Bayei "River Bushmen" have lived in harmony with the seasonal challenges of life in the delta. This patchwork mosaic of meandering channels, open floodplains, seasonally flooded grasslands, dense reed beds, vast papyrus rafts, and thousands upon thousands of islands, is Africa’s last–remaining wetland wilderness, a true haven for biodiversity in the region. The delta provides vast areas of critical habitat for bird and mammal migrations and the world’s largest remaining population of elephants, buffalo and hippopotami.
Africa is changing rapidly, affecting the ecological integrity of the land. Mineral rights are being sold, gas and oil exploration is underway, plans for dams and hydro–electric plants are imminent, road networks are expanding, and water is becoming continuously scarcer due to population growth and climate change. With oil revenue pouring into Angola, the accelerated development of the Okavango River is a real possibility and conservation measures will be needed to mitigate the effects of this change downstream. In Namibia, there are talks of pump stations to provide water to surrounding communities as well as a hydroelectric weir at Popa Falls. Although only a short section of the Okavango River lies in Namibia, this would have a massive impact on the seasonal passage of water and sediment into the delta system, both of which are essential for the system to function.
These interests could effectively stall the achievement of World Heritage Status and regional discussions around the protection of this sensitive wetland ecosystem and its pristine catchment. The need for action is immediate.
The objective of Okavango is to ensure that the world understands the importance of the ecological services provided by the Okavango wetland ecosystem before it disappears, and to activate its audience to help achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status. Declaration will not ensure the Okavango Delta remains untouched with the entire catchment vulnerable to development. The film will celebrate the intrinsic value of the vast untouched catchment in Angola that sends down the annual floods to this globally important ecosystem that is visible from space – an emerald gem in the middle of the Kalahari. The campaign linked to the film will advocate for a tri–nation (Angola–Namibia–Botswana) World Heritage Site, proper legislative protection, and a commitment to ecotourism as the economic driver for the region.
This feature length film will share an intimate look at the human experience in wilderness, the ups and downs, the vulnerability and humility, the care and caution, the love, the fear, the frustration, the surrender and dependence on water. The team of explorers will undertake a two month crossing of the Okavango River System from the source in Angola all the way 1,000 miles down the river through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into an untouched wilderness in the heart of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. They will travel like baYei River Bushmen and be subject to the innate dangers and ultimate consequences of the remote African wilderness basic. They will encounter the worlds largest-remaining populations of elephants, thousands of angry hippos, 15–foot man–eating crocodiles, and some of the last–remaining "super–prides" on earth.
Okavango will call attention to the brilliance of the Delta’s infinitely complex water systems. The film will illustrate this rich source of life with beautiful imagery connecting viewers to the strength and power and at the same time the inherent fragility of earth’s remaining natural waterways. The Delta will reveal itself as the center of the ongoing cycle of life and highlight the dependencies humans and animals share in survival.
Film director Neil Gelinas is contributing his extensive experience as Senior Producer for National Geographic in making Okavango. In collaboration with conservation and media partners, audiences worldwide will become compelled to help protect this important wilderness.
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