This year, stuck at home and unable to travel, I found myself thinking fondly about something extraordinary that happens in southern Africa every year. In the dry season, thousands of elephants migrate hundreds of miles across barren savannah and empty deserts to converge on one of the continent’s last great wildernesses—the Okavango Delta in Botswana. They travel in search of water and nutrients that are found only in these vast wetlands. It’s the biggest migration of elephants in Africa: many cross over from neighboring Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola for this annual feast, providing tourists with one of the best safaris on offer.

In the summer of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, which has decimated African tourism, I spent a month walking across Botswana, tracking the elephant herds across some of the most incredible and diverse landscapes imaginable. Traveling on foot, in the company of a San bushman (a member of one of southern Africa’s hunter-gatherer tribes), I was immensely privileged to gain rare insight into the lives of these gentle giants, at ground level and on their terms.