Call of the Wild

By Jonathan Foerster Photography by Carlton Ward July 1, 2012

Near the start of their journey, photographer Carlton Ward and bear biologist Joe Guthrie pole through the Everglades. “I didn’t do enough to prepare for how exhausting the trip was,” says Ward.In the 21st century, when virtually every inch of the globe has been mapped, explored or scrutinized from space, the idea of an expedition seems quaint. Gone are the days when men seeking fame and fortune struck out to discover uncharted lands.

Yet expeditions are still necessary—not to map out unknown wilds, but to remind people that those wilds are worth protecting. With that mission, photographer Carlton Ward, whose work regularly appears in such publications as Smithsonian and National Wildlife magazines, set off from Florida Bay at the southern tip of the state with biologist Joe Guthrie, filmmaker Elan Stoltztus and conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt on a three-month journey north to Georgia.

Above, a pine forest on Le Fils Ranch, recently protected in a conservation easement with Volusia County. From far left, wading in Big Cypress Swamp; pitching the tents on inflatable mattresses keeps them dry; campfire by the Suwannee River.

Navigating Oyster Bay in the wilds of Everglades National Park.Their goal: to promote and help preserve the Florida Wildlife Corridor, an interconnected series of private and public lands that gives species from the endangered Florida panther to wading birds the space and mobility to thrive even as growth and development shrink much of their natural habitats. The team blogged, broadcast, tweeted and met with media and politicians, all while trudging, paddling and even riding horseback through 1,000 miles of often arduous terrain, from the swamps of the Everglades through ancient sand dunes to the pine forest of Ocala National Forest. Along the way, they discovered breathtaking vistas and encountered all sorts of wildlife, from alligators and barred owls to bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

“The presence of wildlife and their use of these same routes keeps me going,” Ward wrote in his field notes after one particularly tough day. And at the end of their trek, the team felt both renewed wonder at our state’s natural beauty and hope for the future of its wild creatures.

“Until I physically traveled over it, I did not appreciate the connections that remain,” Ward wrote.


Florida is 400 miles in length, but the expedition traveled 1,000 miles because of the twists and turns of wildlife corridors.

More of Carlton Ward’s photographs will be on exhibit at Selby Gardens in October.

The explorers arrive at the shores of vast and shallow Lake Okeechobee on the northern edge of the Everglades.

The team saw a world of wildlife along the way. Clockwise from top, a Florida panther in captivity at the Seminole Indian Reservation in Big Cypress; Guthrie examines a Florida black bear; indigo snake; a deer on the Blue Head Ranch in Highlands County. The survival of thousands of such species hinges on keeping wild lands adjacent and open throughout the state. Below, the Suwannee River.

A cabbage palm hammock  along the Econlockhatchee River near its confluence with the St. Johns River. Florida’s wilderness is “incredibly diverse,” says Ward. “We went through a lot of zone changes.”

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