Q&A With ‘Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise’ Cinematographer Bob Poole

Wildlife filmmaker Bob Poole has dedicated his career to documenting the recovery of a lost Eden—Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, a jewel of Africa’s parks system until civil war almost destroyed it.

Poole’s six-part PBS/National Geographic series Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise chronicling the park’s journey premiered September 22. Poole is also gearing up for his National Geographic Live multi-city “Gorongosa Reborn” tour, where the Emmy Award winning cinematographer will share unforgettable stories and images from the field. With so much on the horizon, for both Poole and the park, he answered some questions about his career, inspirations, and the adversities Gorongosa is facing.

What inspired your work with Gorongosa National Park?

My first assignment in Gorongosa National Park was in 2008 for National Geographic, called Africa’s Lost Eden. I fell in love with the park and the restoration project, and later was asked to join the Board of Directors. I made several other films there including National Geographic’s War Elephants. During that time, I saw the park’s wildlife rebound and I realized how resilient nature is if given a chance to heal.

How did you and your sister, Joyce Poole, both develop a love for wildlife and find yourselves working together?

My sister, Joyce, and I grew up in Africa where my father worked in conservation. My mother and father both loved nature and we spent every chance we could camping among the wildlife that thrived there in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My career as a cameraman started in my twenties when I filmed Joyce’s discoveries about elephants. We’ve worked together ever since.

You’ve said, “Gorongosa is proof that what we’ve broken, we can put back together.” Could you describe the challenges Gorongosa is facing?

Some species like lions and zebras are not recovering as fast as others. The elephants are aggressive and dangerous due to years of persecution during the long wars when their tusks were traded for guns and ammunition. The park is a vast wilderness that needs to be explored and understood, and is threatened by illegal logging, mining, and poaching. There are settlements that occur within the park’s boundaries. Outside, an expanding human population is experiencing conflicts with wildlife. These people have experienced very difficult times and need support. There are many challenges the park faces.

Credit: Gina Poole

Bob Poole walks through the misty landscape armed with the kind of telephoto lens that lets him capture the intimate scenes of wildlife that give us a window into their world. (Photo by Gina Poole)
Could you tell me a little about what you are discussing during your National Geographic Live events?

In my “Gorongosa Reborn” talk, I share my experiences growing up in Africa and how they led me to a career in wildlife filmmaking. I tell the story of how I first came to Gorongosa and why I wanted to stay. The talk focuses on the past two years when I made the PBS/NGCI series Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise. I show a variety of video clips and still images that illustrate these stories.

What most excites you about the talk?

There are two different things: I love the energy I receive from the audience when they laugh at some of the clips, images, and stories. But what really inspires me is when I realize that my message, “the wild places we’ve broken can be put back together,” registers with everyone.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

What I learned during my time in Gorongosa is that there’s nothing easy about conservation. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, and long-term commitment. But it can be done.

[This interview has been condensed and edited.]

For more information about Bob Poole’s work, catch Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise on PBS and look for Poole in a city near you with National Geographic Live.

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