60 Minutes

The 'Climate Kids' and #FridaysForFuture: "There is no Planet B."

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city,” Barack Obama famously said in his stirring, still memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “And if it can change a city, it can change a state, it can change nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

Little more than a week before the planned worldwide strike on March 15 by students and grade-school pupils protesting the effects of climate change on future generations, support is surging for the legal case Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people have sued the US federal government over climate change. A “Young People’s Brief” amicus brief was filed in US court last Friday, alongside briefs filed by environmenatlaist, women’s groups, business leaders and eight members of the US Congress in support of a case that has been before the courts for months now. On two separate occasions, US federal administrations — first under Barack Obama and again under Donald Trump — have tried to have the lawsuit tossed out of court. The government has lost both times. A early, lower-court ruling by an Oregion judge, giving legal reasons why the case should be allowed to continue, was appealed to the US Supreme Court twice. Both times, the Supreme Court sided with the climate activists over the government.


Students and school pupils from some 50 countries have said they will rally together in the March 15 demonstration, even as the strike is being dismissed on both the right and left as a cheap publicity gimmick — so much hot air, if you will — and an excuse to skip school for a day.

As it is, school students in Australia, France, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Thailand, Colombia and Uganda have already skipped a day of school to demand stronger climate action from their governments, as part of 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture climate campaign. Thunberg, who started the whole process as a solo campaigner outside the Swedish parliament last year, has become a lightning rod for both praise and controversy, and has been mentioned as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate, and was recently invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some saw this as a cyncial ploy on the part of fat-cat industrialists who have already done their part to wreck the planet, but the truth is that — whether useful idiot or Nobel material — Thunberg herself couldn’t really give a (compost heap) how she’s perceived. The issue is what drives her, and that’s what has made her such a compelling voice for climate activism. She really couldn’t care whether she wins the Nobel Prize or gets to dine at Davos (don’t feed her lobster!) or not, and she’s the first to lash out sharply at soothing but empty feel-good words from those in power. Words don’t count anymore, actions do. She’s told people on her own side that. Actions deferred, whether it’s the Paris Agreement or tepid promises at the climate conference in Rio de Janeiro to scale back carbon emissions by 2050 mean nothing, she says. We need action, and we need it now.


That this argument was first made by a 15-year-old would have seemed laughable a year ago, and the truth is that many people did laugh at the time.

Well, they’re not laughing now.

In a stroke of good timing — though, knowing the way the media works, I suspect it was planned that way all along — 60 Minutes’s Steve Kroft presented a news segment, The Climate Kids, on North America’s most-watched news-magazine program this past weekend. The amicus brief this past Friday was co-signed by 30,000 young people. Now, all of a sudden, those 21 students who filed the original court case have swelled in number to the tens of thousands.

That number will only grow on March 15.

Will any of this make any difference? It’s hard to tell. I’ve commented here about how the 1973 Hollywood thriller Soylent Green, itself based on the dystopian sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! by the American novleist Harry Harrison, eerily foreshadowed a world overrun by too many people and choked by carbon emissions, where fresh strawberries are a near-priceless luxury that only multi-millionaires and captains of industry can afford — until they’re murdered as part of a corporate coverup, in case the proles — i.e. us — find out what’s really going on and rebel against their masters.


Soylent Green proved popular in its day, and has endured enough to be referenced even today— but as Greta Thunberg would point out, so what? What’s actually been done? 62 million American voters voted for Donald Trump to be their president, and this is a man who doesn’t even beliheve there’s a problem.

Xiuhytexcatl Martinez, the 19-year-old indigenous environmental activist and youth director of the self-explanatory Earth Guardians, is one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, alongside climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. The suit — which many dismissed at the time, remember — argues that the US federal government has failed itd responsiblity to safeguard the health of future generations. The very air we breathe is at risk from rising carbon-dioxide emissions, which in turn affects global warming, a now-unfashionable phrase that most if not all legitimate climate scientists agree is the prime driver behind climate change. “What’s at stake right now,” then-15-year-old Martinez told the UN General Assembly in 2015, “is the existence of my generation.”

climate6 Xiuhytexcatl Martinez.jpg

Hyperbole? Perhaps. Possibly . . . probably, in fact. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Soylent Green went over this same ground in 1973, after all.



Rhinos — born to be wild, not farmed.

The curious conservation conundrum surrounding rhino rancher John Hume and his 1,500 rhinos has been in the news for some time now in his native South Africa. Hume hopes to harvest their horns — made of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails, the horns can be cut off and harvested without causing pain or harm to the animal — and in theory help save the species, by flooding the black market with legally sourced rhino horn and — in theory — put black market profiteers, and rhino poachers, out of business.

That’s the theory, anyway. Alarmed conservationists say flooding the market with supposedly legitimate rhino horn would only boost demand. It would be difficult if not impossible, they say, to distinguish legal horn from illegal horn. It would send a message, too, that rhino horn is a perfectly legitimate product, provided it’s sourced properly.

©CBS News

©CBS News

Any number of conservation laws and protections would have to be lifted for Hume to turn his idea into a long-term, thriving business, and so far lawmakers have been doubtful — not just in South Africa, but throughout the world.

Hume has argued that if something isn’t done soon to make rhino horn legal, he’ll go out of business, since keeping and breeding 1,500 rhinos isn’t exactly cheap.

Irony aside, a major part of his expenses is hiring security for his ranch, to ensure that rhino poachers — heavily armed and well organized — don’t whack his own farm animals to turn a quick buck on the black market.

The story, with all its twists and turns, would have stayed in South Africa and a handful of European countries but for the top-rated US TV news program 60 Minutes, now in its 50th season. Last weekend, 60 Minutes aired a 15-minute segment on Hume’s rhino ranch and the attending controversy.

The segment, ironically enough, was reported by 60 Minutes veteran Lara Logan, herself a native of South Africa, having been born and raised in Durban.

©CBS News1.png

Hume, perhaps mindful of the present occupant of the U.S. presidency — the U.S. president’s a two sons are both avid big-game hunters and, what’s more, proud of shooting animals in Africa, whether those animals are on the endangered species list or not — talked a good game. He equated the legal ban on rhino horn to Prohibition, pointing out that when Prohibition was finally lifted, organIzed crime was squeezed out of the booze business.

No one thought to mention, least of all Logan, that the economics of scale don’t quite fit: Booze can be distilled relatively inexpensively — at least, compared to farming rhinos — and distributed relatively easily, across a wide area, to an expansive and and growing market that includes, well, just about everyone.

Raising rhinos, on the other hand, is expensive, slow and time-consuming. A rhino’s gestation period is 18 months, and rhinos, both the northern black and southern white rhinos, have just one baby at a time. They don’t breed like rats, in other words, or even cows or horses.

Besides, not everyone is in the market for rhino horn — even if it is worth more per gram than gold. The appetite is so great for rhino horn is now so great that it fetches up to USD 100,000/kg.

©David Chancellor/Kiosk-National Geographic6

©David Chancellor/Kiosk-National Geographic6

There may be many, many people in Vietnam, China, Laos and Thailand, but even there, not everyone believes rhino horn will cure cancer (it doesn’t) or make one’s erection bigger and last longer (it won’t).

Curiously, the market in rhino horn for making dagger handles in the Arabian peninsular and Gulf oil states has fallen on hard times of late, perhaps because oil sheikhs and idle Saudi princes have found more malleable, sought-after materials to show off as status symbols, or perhaps it’s that rhino horn’s reputation as an aphrodisiac and cure-all for every disease known to humankind — not to mention it works wonders for hangovers! — now outweighs mere vanity in the futures markets.

Hume insists he’s been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for years now and that his financial situation is growingly untenable. The truth is that no one can predict with any degree of certainty whether suddenly flooding the market with legitimate rhino horn would have any effect on poaching, up or down. A similar, even more hotly contested debate over ivory and elephant poaching keeps flaring up at international wildlife meetings, including the meetings last year of the international regulatory boards CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature). The evidence would seem to lean toward the conservationists’ argument that lifting sanctions on the sale of rhino horn, whether legitimately sourced or not, would only lead to the killing of more rhinos.



Since rhino populations have taken an absolute pasting over the past several years, that is not good environmental science, no matter which way you slice it.

And by the time consumers in China and Vietnam realize that, sadly, rhino horn will not cure cancer or make one’s erection bigger or last longer, there may be no rhinos left to disprove the theory.

There’s also the inconvenient truth that rhinos are warm-blooded, sentient beings; as much as Hume would like us to believe that farming these holdovers from the late Miocene era (that’s 6 million years ago, if you’re keeping count) is no different than farming pigs and cows, the plain fact is that rhinos were born to be wild.

There was a moment during last weekend’s 60 Minutes segment when Hume called dozens of rhinos onto a dusty, desert-like plain to feed on handouts of alfalfa feed in stone troughs; it was as close to a vision of animal hell as I ever hope to see. Logan, a veteran war correspondent who was embedded with US forces during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, looked horrified. It was about as far from seeing a rhino — a largely solitary, often unsociable animal — in its natural surroundings as it’s possible to imagine, and still be looking at a living rhino.

If this is the future of the species, one can be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth it.

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“Life is for the living, not the dead.” — Dame Daphne Sheldrick 1934-2018

Damn. They say life goes on. And in my case, when I first heard Dame Daphne Marjorie Sheldrick, DBE (born 4 June, 1934) had passed away at age 83 from a longtime battle with breast cancer, it took me a while to realize that Ishanga, the orphaned elephant I sponsored in November, 2010 — rescued literally from the jaws of death after being surrounded by marauding lions in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park — is alive and well and repatriated back into the wild at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Ithumba Unit in Tsavo East.

Daphne Sheldrick may have lost her battle with cancer, but there are so many orphaned elephants — almost too many to count — that the Sheldrick Trust has nurtured back to health over the years and decades, thanks in large part to the many sponsors around the world who help with feeding and medical costs, that her spirit will survive for as long as there are wild elephants in Tsavo.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I’m not going to bang on much more about it here. I’ll leave that to others who knew her best, and those at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park, home of the Kenya Wildlife Service — Kenyan-born armed rangers who every day put their lives on the line and wage war against ivory poachers in Kenya’s semi-arid thorn scrub bush and acacia grasslands with romantic names like Tsavo, Samburu, Meru, Amboseli and Nakuru. The Sheldrick Trust takes its name not from Daphne but from her late husband David, who was the founding park warden of  Tsavo, one of the last truly wild protected wilderness areas on the entire continent of Africa, and without a doubt Kenya’s most rugged, wild and untrammelled park, a vast  wilderness area so large, so dangerous and so genuinely wild that tourists only venture into those tiny pockets of pacified bush that skirt the Nairobi-to-Mombasa highway. These are true badlands, Kenya’s equivalent of Zakouma National Park in Chad or Gorongosa in Mozambique, where AK-47s are as common as bushbuck.

And yet those, like David and Daphne Sheldrick who lived there, soon fell under Tsavo’s spell.

Tsavo is where Denys Finch Hatton — played by Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning 1985 film Out of Africa — died after crashing his Gypsy Moth biplane in May, 1931, shortly after taking off from Voi, not far the Nairobi-Mombasa rail line that would famously become the site of the infamous “Man-Eaters of Tsavo.” The man-eaters, a pair of uncommonly large, maneless male lions, killed 135 construction workers — the exact number is a matter of some debate — between March and December, 1898 and stopped construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway in its tracks. literally. Tsavo has always been untamed.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

David Sheldrick came to Kenya as an infant — he was born in Alexandria, Egypt; his father, who had served with the British Remounts in the First World War, settled in Kenya to establish a coffee farm — and died of a heart attack in 1977 at the relatively young age of 57. His widow Daphne created the Sheldrick Elephant Trust in his name.

David Sheldrick had served in the Second World War with the King’s African Rifles in Abyssinia, Ethiopia and then Burma. He was drawn to Tsavo’s rugged beauty and its reputation for unpredictability and sense of danger. It wasn’t long before Sheldrick saw the need for conservation and protection of the wilderness. Tsavo was home at the time to some of East Africa’s largest herds of wild elephants — it still is — but they were disappearing at a fast, and growing, rate. Illegal hunting and ivory poaching were rife, even in the early part of the 20th century.

Daphne Sheldrick recounts those early years in her 2012 memoir, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story, and a portrait emerges, much as it does in Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Philip Caputo’s hypnotic, addictive 2002 book Ghosts of Tsavo, not of an idealistic bunny-hugger but of a tough, uncompromising woman unafraid of using pithy language when she wanted it to stick, and who showed little fear whether facing a marauding lion, agitated elephant, bandits wielding automatic weapons — or an ill-informed writer visiting from North America with misplaced notions about cute animals and the supposed romanticism of post-colonial Africa.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I first learned of Daphne Sheldrick and the Sheldrick Trust from a 2006 segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes, as reported by the late, veteran war correspondent Bob Simon.


The publicity generated by Simon’s 60 Minutes piece wasn’t the reason the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi became a mandatory pit stop on the Nairobi tourist circuit, of course, but it played an incalculable role in introducing the very idea of an elephant orphanage to jaded TV viewers from all over the U.S. and Canada.

The Trust isn’t some misty-eyed vestige of post-colonial romanticism, either. One of Sheldrick’s greatest and most overlooked achievements was winning the trust, confidence and support of successive presidents of independent Kenya over the years, many of them veterans of Kenya’s protracted and often bloody struggle for independence from Britain. Kenya’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the son of Kenya’s founding father and co-leader of Kenya’s struggle for independence, Jomo Kenyatta.

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Enough background. I leave it here with some of Daphne Sheldrick’s reflections and musings from over the years, in her own words. The grace, dignity and respect for nature’s wonder shines through in ways both subtle and profound, and always heartfelt.

“To be a baby elephant must be wonderful. Surrounded by a loving family 24 hours a day.... I think it must be how it ought to be, in a perfect world.”

“Animals are indeed more ancient, more complex, and in many ways more sophisticated than us. They are more perfect because they remain within Nature’s fearful symmetry, just as Nature intended. They should be respected and revered, but perhaps none more so than the elephant, the world's most emotionally human land mammal.” 

“They, who have suffered so much at the hands of humans, never lose the ability to forgive, even though, being elephants, they will never be able to forget.”

“Life is for the living, not the dead, who belong to the past and are at peace and beyond all further pain and suffering 'somewhere in the great somewhere.”

                       —  Daphne Sheldrick, 1934-2018.                       

                            Pumzika kwa amani.

Daphne Sheldrick with 'Wendie,' May, 2011.  ©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Daphne Sheldrick with 'Wendie,' May, 2011.  ©David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Big Cats Initiative + World Wildlife Day = Causing an uproar.

Think about this: We have lost 95% of the world’s wild tigers in the past century. During that time, lion populations have crashed 40% — in just three generations. That’s just one reason why, this year, World Wildlife Day (Saturday) is focusing on the plight facing the world’s #BigCats.

It’s the reason South Africa-born husband-and-wife naturalist team Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert have made big-cat conservation their life’s calling, and why they were instrumental in founding National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative in 2009. (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/big-cats-initiative/about/)

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

This may sound obvious to anyone who’s thought about the implications — long-term and short-term — of overpopulation, climate change and rampant consumption, but to hear Dereck and Beverly Joubert tell it, it’s not obvious at all to ordinary, everyday people who are too busy feeding their families and keeping a roof over their heads to worry about whether lions will go the way of the Tasmanian tiger and sabre-toothed cat. Historically, the Tasmanian tiger — once found throughout the continent of Australia — became extinct on the mainland some 3,000 years ago. The last known Tasmanian tiger died at Australia’s Hobart Zoo in 1936; the species was declared extinct in 1982. 

©University of Melbourne - Museums Victoria

©University of Melbourne - Museums Victoria

Unless something is done, and done quickly, the Jouberts told a rapt audience several years ago at a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Calif., iconic apex predators like the lion, tiger, jaguar, puma, cheetah and leopard could vanish by mid-century.

“We’ve been studying and looking at big cats now for about 30 years,” Dereck Joubert told reporters at a meeting sponsored by National Geographic’s NatGeoWild digital channel, “and one of the alarming things for us, which was the genesis of (this project) actually, was the realization that, in our lifetimes, lions have dropped from 450,000 down to 20,000, and leopard numbers are from 700,000 down to about 50,000. If you take an extension of that curve, you will imagine these big cats to be extinct within the next 10 or 15 years.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time. But now is the time to bring it to wider attention.”

3. dereck WWD official banner.jpg


As World Wildlife Day dawns, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is anxious to put a familiar face on wildlife conservation efforts around the world. It isn’t just to do with lions, of course, but lions are an emblematic symbol that almost anyone can recognize, from the youngest child to the most jaded, cynical adult.

“What’s important ultimately, and what's going to help us  with the Big Cats Initiative, is getting the message out,” Beverly Joubert said. “A lot of people don't believe there is even a problem, so they say, ‘Why should we worry?’ Through the Big Cats Initiative, we've managed to raise money for cheetahs, for example, so we will have a lot of cheetah programs out there. We're not only looking at lions and leopards.

“Big cats are the iconic species. They’re the apex predator. If the apex predator is taken out of the system, the whole system collapses. We need the apex predators we can maintain corridors for elephants, for antelope, for the tiny little dung beetles. Everything is connected. It’s vitally important.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert


Apologists for the hunting industry often argue that hunting is vital economically for species survival.

Balderdash, Dereck Joubert scoffs — though he’s inclined to use a stronger modifier.

“We are very, very adamant about hunting. This is all about ego. They call it recreational hunting, as if we could also be talking about playing tennis. Some people go out and take some great delight in the killing of these animals. Five hundred lion skins — lions in dead form — come into the United States every year as hunting trophies and safari trophies. With 20,000 lions left, you know that's not sustainable.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert


Learning endangered species’ day-to-day life habits is key to ensuring its long-term survival, Beverly Joubert added. That’s part of what the Big Cats Initiative is all about and, in the bigger picture, World Wildlife Day itself. 

“We want to be able to look at that unique behaviour right  now and see how we can utilize what has happened in the past and where we are in the present and use that to give us a better idea of what’s going to happen in the future,” she said. “It’s looking at the plight of these cats, learning from it and applying those lessons to the future, whether it’s to do with hunting and poaching or just protecting these wildlife corridors.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

World Wildlife Day could just as easily be about the dung beetle or leopard tortoise, Dereck Joubert believes.


“There are a number of great iconic species, and I think it’s our job to pick them and highlight them. The conservation that goes on around these other species is just as valid, but you gotta pick the cheerleaders.

“Also, we have a lot more fun filming lions that dung beetles,” he said.

“But we still film those dung beetles,” Beverly Joubert chimed in.

They’re all connected.

Except where noted otherwise, the images in this post were taken by Beverly Joubert in association with National Geographic/Big Cats Initiative. World Wildlife Day is Sat., March 3. #PredatorsUnderThreat #WWD2018 #BigCats

7. dereck NatGeo BCI graph.png

The images that force you to look away are often the most effective: National Geographic photographer Steve Winter.

It’s the images you don’t want to see — the ones that make you want to turn the page — that are most important to Steve Winter.

The career National Geographic photographer, a past recipient of the UK Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year top honour — and a nominee again this past year, in the environmental awareness category — doesn’t see his role so much as inspiring a love for nature as galvanizing people to action. And as much as his photos of tiger moms playing with their cubs have moved a generation of National Geographic readers over his 35-year-plus career as a cameraman specializing in big cats in the wild, he sees his role now as warning the world that planet Earth’s remaining wild cats — all of them — are in serious trouble.

Winter’s pioneering work with jaguars in the jungles and riverine rainforests of Brazil — he was the first staff photographer in National Geographic history to do a photo essay for the magazine on the world’s third-largest and arguably most elusive big cat — is on full display in NatGeo’s December, 2017 issue, in an article headed “Kingdom of the Jaguar.” 

Winter didn’t want the article to be another photo essay on the natural history of South America’s most elusive jungle predator but rather a carefully researched treatise on the threats faced by jaguars in the wild, from development projects to poaching, and the effect the jaguar’s population crash is having on local indigenous culture and heritage.

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

In a wide-ranging, exclusive sit-down conversation this past summer in Los Angeles, Winter — fresh off a plane from Peru — explained that while he appreciates Sir David Attenborough’s assessment during a 60 Minutes interview that nobody wants to be told the world is going to hell and it’s all their fault, it’s time for all of us realize what’s happening behind the camera on all those pretty pictures.

“I believe you have to find a way to show the reality that these animals are living,” Winter said. “Because that narrow view of a mouse jumping around on a blade of grass that I just saw on Planet Earth II yesterday is just that — a narrow view of that animal’s world. But beyond that, the world could be different.”

As an example, Winter cited his photography of tigers in the wild, a lifelong project that has seen him visit most of India and Nepal’s major wildlife parks over a 30-year period.

“I’m doing tigers,” he recalled, “and I keep hearing about Tadoba, Tadoba, Tadoba. Taboba Tiger Reserve. So, I see pictures of Tadoba. And they’re regular old tiger pictures, nothing unusual. 

“Then, one day, I’m driving up to the park gate and I’m surrounded by the biggest coal mine I’ve ever seen in my life. Open pit. And at the edge of that coal mine is the beginning of this tiger reserve. Now that tiger reserve is under direct threat because of the coal mine — but I’ve never, ever seen a photograph of it.

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

“So I go in, take pictures, then we do a video for Nat Geo, and I go in again. No one questions me because I’m a westerner. I stand on top of a rise, wait for these giant trucks to come by with tires as big as this ceiling. 

“I feel that that’s important, because you have to understand that all the protected areas in India lie on top of these coal reserves and they have a new prime minister, Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi, who would like to go in and take that.

“Now if you don’t realize the extent of that, that if you walk back not that far from the border of the park you’d fall into one of the biggest mine pits I’ve ever seen — if you don’t know that exists — then you can’t put those two things together. This reserve is under threat, and that’s important because this is the stronghold, the foundation for all the other wild tigers on the face of the earth.

“By telling people about that, you’re not beating anybody over the head. You’re just showing people the reality of the situation. We have problems. We also have solutions. I’m one of the most positive guys on the face of the earth. But I do not believe that if I just showed you these pristine tiger families and their cubs, without telling you about the other issues, I’m not doing my job. The story that needs to be told about tigers is completely different than any story we’ve heard. That was a long answer, but, you know, it’s important that people know this. “

S.Winter Tigers-Forever book cover.jpg

Winter began his career as a traditional photojournalist, covering the world’s hot spots and recording the remains of vanishing cultures. He came to nature photography late in life; he estimates he didn’t see his first big cat in the wild until he was in his early 30s. Interestingly enough, given the subject matter of his photo essay for this month’s National Geographic, that cat turned out to be a jaguar. And a black jaguar at that, that scratched at his screen door late one night while he was overnighting in the rainforests of Guatemala.

It was a very different animal, though, in a very different part of the world, that made him realize the power of those disturbing photos that make you want to turn the page.

“The pictures you don’t want to look at are very important,” Winter said. “Those are the images that have done more in my career than any other. Because I saw how they propelled people to action.

“The best example I can think of, from early in my career, was when I did a story on the Kamchatka bears. We were invited by this outfitter to come to this hunting camp in Alaska. They were losing all these 14-, 15-foot bears. The guy knew why; I just don’t think he wanted to admit it. It was because they had a guaranteed hunt, which means nobody would leave without a dead bear. A bear trophy. Obviously, they were killing everything, including young females.

“I had a picture of all these skinned bears, the heads sitting in the snow, with bare teeth, skinned heads. It couldn’t have been more gross. The heads were getting ready to go into the hot springs, which would get all the dead meat off, leaving a perfectly clean skull, courtesy of mother nature. 

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“Well, right off the bat, that project got a hundred grand. It turns out each hunting outfit was counting each bear three times. So they thought they had three times more bears than they actually had.

“I saw then that the pictures that make people want to turn the page actually brought about more change for that specific species than any of the pretty pictures that I could have gotten.”

Winter’s most famous image — by far — was of a wild mountain lion living literally in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by a metropolitan area of some 10 million residents. Winter used a camera trap, a technique he pioneered decades earlier while doing a story on the elusive snow leopard in the mountains of Nepal. 

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

“The photo of the Hollywood cougar galvanized the people of LA,” Winter recalled. “The image on the front page of the LA Times excited people. It made them realize they live in such a huge metropolitan area, and yet there is actually a mountain lion in an eight-square-mile park.

“There were maybe only five people who’d truly ever seen that cat with their own eyes, and yet there are 10 million visitors a year to that park. That really woke people up.”

In a post later this week, Winter expounds on what makes a great photograph; on how camera traps changed the game, both for him personally and for conservation photography in general; on when he felt most awkward while on the job; on what it feels like to return to civilization after weeks and even months in the wilderness; on what National Geographic meant to him growing up as a small boy in rural Indiana, and what the society has brought to the world today; on the special challenges posed by jaguars; and why he now considers the lecture circuit to be his greatest calling.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

“Pictures that you don’t want to look at sometimes have more power,“ Winters said in a 2014 promo reel for National Geographic. “I mean, beauty’s one thing. Heartbreak is another. Pictures that you just can’t stand looking at are the ones that maybe have the most power.”

Winter’s latest nature film, Jaguar vs. Croc, anchors National Geographic Channel’s “Big Cat Week,” premiering Dec. 10 at 9/8c.

First Hubble, and now James Webb: Boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

The earliest science-fiction writers talked about “sense of wonder” as the creative instinct driving fictional exploration of the stars, in short stories, novels and, eventually, TV scripts and screenplays.

In later years, science-fiction writers turned to acronyms like “GAFIA” — getting away from it all — as one of the reasons readers of all kinds are drawn to science fiction in troubled times, science fiction in the Utopian sense of space exploration, and not necessarily the dystopian novels of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, and their philosophical successors J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick.

This is all very instructive now because, in a year that in many respects marks a low point for humanity, remarkable things have been happening in the worlds of outer space, living reminders that planet Earth is just one tiny speck in a very large universe.

It wasn’t just last month’s 50th anniversary of the Voyager spacecraft or NASA’s Cassini mission to explore Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, but recent revelations — just in the past few weeks — of the Hubble Space Telescope.



Hubble was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990, and remains in operation, despite a — literally — shaky early start. Hubble is the only telescope to be examined and repaired by astronauts in space, five times so far, in shuttle missions. That’s one reason it has managed to continue boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

As it is, the past weeks’ discoveries are only a prelude of sorts for science’s next space mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in the spring of 2019. (The “Next Generation Space Telescope,” as the James Webb telescope is sometimes called, is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Baltimore, Maryland based Space Telescope Science Institute (STSi), and will be launched into space by a European Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in South America.)

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

That is then, though; this is now.

After 27 years in space, the Hubble Space Telescope is still sending back some of the most beautiful and revealing images from across the universe.

When we look up at the night sky, we’re getting a mere glimpse of what’s out there. There are countless — almost literally countless — galaxies humankind never knew existed, except in the imagination of science-fiction writers. Until Hubble, that is.

“I believe Hubble has been the single most transformative scientific instrument that we’ve ever built,” NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker this past Sunday.

Transformative, she said, because Hubble keeps improving our understanding of the universe. 

©CBS News-60 Minutes

©CBS News-60 Minutes

We look at the night sky, and in patches we see nothing but darkness.

“And then, when we look at it with Hubble,” Straughn said, “what we see is thousands of galaxies.”

Not stars. Galaxies.

That was 22 years ago. Since then, Hubble has stared deeper and longer into space with enhanced technology. One recent image revealed more than 10,000 galaxies, in which every single point of light represents an individual galaxy, in Straughn’s words, “its own little island universe.”



What Hubble has taught us is that the universe is filled with hundreds of billions of other galaxies. The most recent results tell us there could be more than two trillion in all, 10 times more than previously thought. Typical galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are home to 100 billion stars.

In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.



In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.

“Yes,” Straughn told 60 Minutes. “Space is big.”

One of the many remarkable things about Hubble’s findings is that it shows how colourful the universe is.

“Big stars, when they die, they explode and send their contents into the surrounding universe,” Straughn said. “And these contents are what seed future stars and future planets and help to seed life, ultimately. The iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones was literally forged inside of a star that ended its life like this. We literally are stardust. We are viscerally made of the stars.”

That’s a striking image. And its images like that which make today’s news events pale in comparison.