In the Tracks of Giants

Following ancient African elephant migration paths, In the Tracks of Giants, is a 6 month east-to-west journey connecting major conservation nodes to promote a greater awareness of conservation, human community and leadership issues specifically relevant to southern Africa. The journey aims to rekindle the rapidly declining indigenous knowledge base of the human – animal interface, and indigenous solutions to conservation challenges and issues.

A team of trackers, conservationists and media will travel by foot, cycle (in regions outside of conservation areas and wildlife parks) and kayak in the Okavango Delta and Zambezi through eight major conservation nodes. Along the way, they will meet with local communities, work with partners, survey and document animal movements and conservation issues focusing on the following issues:

  • Climate change: potential impact on biodiversity and natural habitats
  • Water: The vital role of wild natural areas in supplying water to human communities
  • Human – animal issues: identification of conflict areas and possible solutions
  • Habitat fragmentation and loss of traditional animal migration routes
  • The importance of designated wilderness regions in Transfrontier Conservation Areas
  • Preserving indigenous wildlife knowledge – tracking skills, resource use, oral history
  • Linking environmental issues to leadership issues- biological, social, psychological

Get Involved

To stay up-to-date on In the Tracks of Giants, become a fan on Facebook!  If you’d like to get involved or are interested in sponsoring the trek, please send an email to WILD (info (at)  with the subject line “Tracks” with your contact information and how you would like to be involved.

The Big Picture

“We are all profoundly affected by ecosystem disintegration and biodiversity loss. The idea of “following ancient elephant migration routes” developed by Ian McCallum provides the opportunity to see this at ground level through the difficult choices that elephants face in a world where their horizons are rapidly contracting. Elephants, with their need for space, provide an inspiring and obvious example of how Nature needs large interconnected wild areas in order to continue providing the essential services and support for all life on earth – including humans! “How much” of wild nature should be kept intact is always a question, but increasingly science confirms that “nature needs half.” Ian McCallum’s project can bring light and awareness to this matter,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder, Save the Elephants.

Why the Elephant?

Many of the conservation challenges facing Southern Africa, and in particular wilderness regions within Southern Africa, can be highlighted or characterized through umbrella species – where protection of sufficient habitat and connectivity to assure viable populations of the umbrella species benefits other species more restricted in their range. For example, the challenges facing southern African megafauna are exemplified by issues facing southern African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations in the region.

In this regard, the In the Tracks of Giants project has identified the African elephant as the charismatic mammal of the region and as the iconic species of this coast to coast traverse. Large charismatic wildlife, such as elephants, play an important role as ‘flagship’ species, both in terms of anchoring conservation initiatives and in attracting tourists to protected areas. Furthermore, as keystone species, elephants also play an important role in the broader landscape, through their influence on vegetation patterns.

Local distribution of elephants varies seasonally due to variation in resource availability, and the species is known to undertake long-distance movements. In the selection of the African elephant as the icon of the project, the In the Tracks of Giants journey route has been carefully selected to follow ancient elephant migration paths and to traverse current elephant habitat, thus highlighting the issues faced by southern African elephant populations (and other megafaunal populations) across their former range.

Key People & Partners

The WILD Foundation is the North American face of In the Tracks of Giants – which is a collaborative initiative spearheaded by members of the Wilderness Network (The WILD Foundation USA, Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Leadership School South Africa and the Wilderness Foundation UK) and including other non-governmental organizations, wildlife management authorities, parks and reserves management and other government, community and corporate partners.

Final participant lists are currently being addressed. The initiative will however be lead and hosted by three Conservation personalities; Dr Ian McCallum, Ian Michler and a top female African guide.

Ian McCallum, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, specialist wilderness guide, Jungian analyst and naturalist has a unique perspective on man’s relationship with the natural environment. Promoted in his highly acclaimed book Ecological Intelligence – Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature, his message is one of an urgent need to understand human history, position and responsibilities in the web of life. He is the author of an anthology of wilderness poems – Wild Gifts.

Ian Michler, a top wildlife guide, photojournalist and naturalist, has spent the last decade documenting the major conservation challenges facing Africa. An author of 6 travel books on various African countries, his work is well known to readers of the award winning magazines, Africa Geographic and Africa Birds and Birding.

Both McCallum and Michler have extensive guiding experience throughout Southern and East Africa and will be assisted be experienced local guides in each country.

The third full-time participant will be an African female guide trained and selected by the Wilderness Network.

The involvement of specialist participants is proposed as a major component of In the Tracks of Giants by providing the opportunity for their participation in the journey. Both Wilderness Leadership School and environmental seminars will be carried out within each conservation node.

Big Bend/Rio Bravo, USA-Mexico conservation success

November 3,2011 by Vance Martin

Good things often take awhile, and are worth waiting for…

In late 2008 we were planning practical outcomes for WILD9 (the 9th World Wilderness Congress),  with The WILD Foundation and our partners trying to create better wilderness awareness in Mexico and better cooperation for wilderness in North America. Patricio Robles Gil — the great Mexican conservation photographer and artist, and our partner in creating WILD9  –  suggested to me that we visit with our colleague Juan Elvira Quesada, Mexico’s Secretary of Environment, and present to him the long-dormant plan for a transboundary park along the USA/Mexico border in the region of Big Bend (Texas) and Maderas del Carmen (Mexico).

What a good idea, I thought, to revive the idea first suggested in a letter in 1944 (!) from US President Franklin Roosevelt to Mexico’s President Camacho.  The idea had been politically stone-dormant, unknown except for a few committed conservationists in Texas,  for almost 70 years.   We met with and briefed Secretary Elvira,  provided him with back-up materials,  and I will never forget the way his eyes lit up and twinkled  when he heard the story.  He responded,  “I like this very much…let me try this.”

It was not easy.   National security issues, continued bad news  on the border with drug cartels, immigration, weapons smuggling, and all the rest  had created a stone wall of attitude.  President Calderon was clear: do not bring me the idea until all my Ministers agree…and many of them did not.  Juan Elvira  worked on each of them.

The USA was the USA (of late)… a box.  Undaunted, Juan Elvira took advantage of the newly-elected Obama administration’s message of cooperation and hope. He met with the incoming Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who was just getting his feet under the desk and was interested to know more details and be kept informed. Using very strategic diplomacy, Secretary Elvira then went straight to the White House and President Obama’s National Security Advisor, General James Jones (US Marine Corps, retired).  Jones liked this out-of-the-box idea and thought it would help create a different and positive image of national security. The White House engaged.   Ken Salazar got on board.  It began to roll.

Almost three years after our first meeting and 67 years since President Roosevelt’s letter, on 24 October 2011 we met at a signing ceremony on the banks of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo River at the Big Bend National Park.  Hosted by Big Bend National Park Superintendent William Yellman, members of all federal land management agencies, local conservationists and school children met with the two Secretaries — Juan Elvira and Ken Salazar — plus the Chief of the US Border Patrol, the US Secretary of Health and Human  Services (Kathleen Sibelius), Head of CONANP (Mexico’s National Parks) Luis Fueyo,  and US Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne in a gathering that Yellman called “The biggest gathering of big brass ever assembled at Big Bend!”.

The Natural Area of Bi-National Interest was officially launched, creating a new consciousness and practice of international cooperation in a 2 million hectare (5 million acre) area of the most bio-diverse desert ecosystem (the Chihuahuan Desert) in North America.

I spoke with Juan and Ken Salazar as we  looked over the river into Mexico at the tiny village of Boquillos and the towering El Carmen escarpment, and we marveled on the conservation achievement and potential of this initiative.  As the day moved on, I also marveled at something else…the obvious respect and genuine friendship between the two Secretaries. Ken Salazar spoke to Juan Elvira using the personal and affectionate “Juanito”…surely this was a first in US-Mexico relations!  And it all came together because of protecting wild nature….

This objective of WILD9 illustrates the World Wilderness Congress process, of collaboration and practical accomplishments that are achieved over many years. We can achieve the miracles we need through cooperation, friendship and persistence. Onward…