National Geographic : 1992 Jan
On Assignment Blowing sand and sizzling sun surround DES and JEN BART LETT (above), themselves fix tures of Africa's Namib Desert. While time is the ally of all wildlife photographers, the Bartletts' quest to find and film desert animals over vast distances has turned into an incredible eight-year marathon. "After three years, we started saying to each other that if we'd known the difficulties at the begin ning, we'd have been fools to take this on," says Jen. "Yet we might still have taken it on, because this is a film that needs to be made." Even with 40 years of recording wildlife between them, the Austra lian naturalists had never seen a desert roamed by elephants and lions, sustained by underground water. To cover the 19,000-square mile sea of sand and rock, including Skeleton Coast Park, they used a pair of lightweight aircraft and two ground vehicles to haul gear from their base, a cabin on the coast. Once they spent an entire day 70 yards downwind of 26 elephants at an oasis. "All we had were two oranges and an emergency water container," Jen recalls. "There was a calf, only days old, the first we'd seen. Late in the day they all left, stopping every few hundred yards to let the baby rest. We watched until they were just dark, distant specks." They also focused on smaller residents like the suricate, a relative of the mongoose, atop Jen's head (left). Suri, as they named their pet, here scans for birds of prey. On the beach, Des uses an endoscope lens for a wide-angle shot of ghost crabs feeding on a dead seal. For the GEOGRAPHIC the Bartletts have migrated with snow geese, revealed life within a beaver lodge, dived with right whales. During six years of filming Namibia's Etosha National Park they heard tantalizing tales of the Skeleton Coast. Here they filmed lions on deserted beach es. Alas, all the park's lions have since disappeared, many shot by herdsmen beyond park boundaries. Now Des and Jen strongly support a proposed game reserve next to the park: "This tragedy must lead to something positive, both for local inhabitants and for wildlife." NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC(ISSN 0027-9358) IS PUBLISHEDMONTHLYBYTHE NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY,17THANDM STS. N.W., WASHINGTON,D. C. 20036. $21.00 A YEAR,$2.65 A COPY. SECOND-CLASS POSTAGEPAIDAT WASHINGTON,D. C., AND ELSEWHERE.POSTMASTER:SEND ADDRESSCHANGESTO NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC,P.O. BOX2174, WASHINGTON,D. C. 20013.