BBtv WORLD: Elephant-blogging in Benin with Xeni (Africa)

Today's Boing Boing tv is an installment of our ongoing BBtv WORLD series, in which we bring you first-person glimpses of life around the globe. Today: an ambient exploration of the creatures rustling around in a West African wildlife preserve at dawn.

I traveled to Benin not long ago, and I shot this video on a small handheld digital camcorder. This episode of our daily show is a little experiment in trying to convey what this place feels like, first-person, without too many words.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and instructions on how to subscribe to the daily BBtv video podcast.

The Pendjari Biosphere lies in Benin's remote rural northwest, along the border of Burkina Faso. Despite poaching and environmental damage, it's still home to a diverse number of species -- elephants, lions, monkeys, cheetah, and around 300 species of birds. We traveled here during the dry season, when animal spotting is easiest. Here is what we saw at dawn (the time of day when critters all come out to the watering holes and rivers).

Poaching is still a big problem in this area, and organized trophy hunting for foreign tourists is still legal and in demand here (mostly visitors from France; Benin is a former French colony and French is the official language). Lion hunts are a lucrative trade in this extremely poor region, where most people are subsistence farmers.

But eco-tourism and less-invasive safari experiences are becoming more important to the local economy here, and offer a more sustainable future.

Note: don't miss the epic baboon ball-grab at 0:35, and the mama elephant ripping tree branches off and getting ready to kill us around 1:50. We were too close to her kids, and we were having a hard time leaving quickly. Do not taunt happy-fun elephant.

Related BBtv WORLD episode:
BBtv World: Green tech and internet at the Songhai Center in Benin (Africa)


  1. Xeni, You actually went to Africa and helped film this? Amazing! That must have been pretty scary being so close to a herd of elephants. Beautiful video. It’s really sad to see Africa’s forests and jungles getting smaller and smaller each day. I’m glad you focused on the beauty that can still exist in an area despite the environmental damage.

    It’s incredible how wildlife is able to adapt to an area after man has taken over their natural territory. Here where I live in Tennessee’s most populated city, it’s not uncommon to see packs of wild coyote in the outskirts of town, running from one copse to another. The raccoons have adapted so well that their population has actually grown in areas as long as there is a little bit of forest for them to hide in. There are still plenty of deer living in the patches of woods between neighborhoods here in the rural area I live in. I’d hate to live in a huge city where the wild animal population has all been wiped out.

    I saw on your website that you contribute to NPR. I’ll have to listen for you, as I usually listen while on my way to work.

    1. @Tom, thanks for the great comment —

      [you] helped film this?

      Heh, I shot the footage you see in this episode, yes. Some was recorded on a small Sony camcorder, and some was just on a little Canon point-n-click Elph (size of an Altoids tin). We like to try and do ambitious things with simple tools around here. You don’t have to have a giant crew of professional videographers, sound guys, and great equipment to tell a simple story in your own voice.

  2. Wow.

    How awesomely cool a trip that must be.

    Wish I was you Xeni.

    Well . .. . rather lets say I wish was doing what you’re doing right now. I do actually like who I am. Honest.

    -abs has moderately decent self-esteem, but damn he’d love to go to Africa and film wildlife.

  3. Must of been a pretty impressive sight seeing all those elephants up close. The trees and the ground seem barren, is that normal, or is this the environmental damage you are referring to?

  4. Supurb footage and lovely ambiant soundtrack.

    The baked, washed out dirt plains looked sort of depressing. Looks like the area could use some reforestation efforts. Fruit trees for the baboons. Shade.

    Thanks for sharing your world adventures and excellent video production, Xeni and the rest of the BBTV team. You guys rock.

  5. Great stuff! This is why I can’t wait to go to Africa, and why I wish I had a job like Xeni’s.

  6. 1 l1K3 th3 p4rt ab0|_|t 4 m1n|_|t3 1n wh3r3 4 p4ss1ng m0nk3y gr4bs th3 0th3r m0nk3ys b4lls.. 1 h0pe th4t w4s l3ft 1n 1nt3nt10n4lly c4|_|s3 1 4lm0st f3ll 0ff my ch41r. LOL

  7. @dejanigma: yes, the Epic Baboon Ball-Grab of 2008 was left in (@ 0:35 or thereabouts) most intentionally, and damn near became our cold open. Consider it our way of saying “thanks,” a reacharound if you will, to beloved viewers like you.

    @wolfiesma, @mrutter: regarding the extreme dryness you’re seeing in this deciduous forest (I think botanists describe it as “Sudanese”), the answer is mixed. we traveled here during the height of the dry season (it’s really hard to get out to this very remote place during rainy season, roads are mud, hazardous), so part of what you’re seeing can be chalked up to seasonal weather cycles.

    But deforestation is a huge, huge problem in Benin (and throughout West Africa). Land is deforested when populations are displaced from nearby war and civil conflict; land is deforested due to urbanization and mining; land is deforested when farmers run out of land and chop down forests.

    Local folks we communicated with indicated that the dry seasons in Benin are now significantly longer and more harsh, and that as water cycles are disrupted and rivers go dry, this causes disruption in the lives of subsistence populations — and the animals and birds.

    One thing that didn’t make it into this episode was footage I shot of the forests literally burning. I saw large areas that were blackened or ash, and asked our paid guide/driver/translator what was up. He said the burns were manmade, to prevent larger fires from destroying villages. But he indicated that this practice was a recently expanded one to accommodate for increasingly hotter, dryer conditions and a lot more dead and dying trees.

    Climate change is real. It’s something the local people there talk about, Not because they have access to “biased liberal media,” as the denialists would have us believe — they do not. They are aware of it because they’re observing it and being forced to live with the consequences.

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