Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

World's Wildest Places I


Natural History of the World’s Wildest Places

Adult Special Interest Course S-N 023

Peninsula College

Winter Quarter, 2004


In spite of the impact of humankind, our planet is still filled with natural and wild places- places where wildlife thrives.  Places where natural beauty and biodiversity is the norm, not the exception.  This course will take students on multiple journeys to some of the world’s wildest places.  Through photo essays and discussions, students will have the opportunity to “visit” such places and Rwanda, Brazil, Australia, Southeast Asia, Antarctica and many more.  Our discussions will center on the flora and fauna and native cultures of the various regions along with up-to-date information on some of the ecological and conservation issues facing these phenomenal areas.  As the instructor it is my fervent hope that students come away with a greater understanding of these issues and an appreciation of the wonders of these wild places.  And even more than that, I hope that my students will come away with a desire to travel to these places and become an active participant in their preservation.


Course Syllabus


Instructor:  A. Coke Smith                 

Phone:  (360) 565-0151/1593

Class Dates and Time:  08 January to 11 March 2004, Thursdays, 3:30PM to 5:30PM



Course Schedule


08 January: Introductions and course description.

Topic:  The Dragons of Komodo


East of the famed Wallace Line, the Komodo Islands are an arid island paradise with a dramatically lower biodiversity compared to the bio-rich islands in the western part of the Indonesian archipelago.  Although there are fewer species here, there is one that makes the islands famous to naturalists of all levels – the Komodo dragon.  Reaching lengths of over ten feet, the dragons were once thought to be mythical beasts dreamt up by delusional seafarers or marooned sailors.  This photo essay will focus on the wonderful wildlife of the Komodo Islands and the dragons that make them famous.


15 January: Topic:  The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire      


This evening we will visit one of the most endangered habitats on earth – the African cloud forest.  And we will also be viewing images of one of the most endangered animals on earth – the mountain gorilla.  With numbers ranging from a mere 300-600 left in the wild, the mountain gorilla is facing an uphill battle of survival that many feel might be futile.  This lecture will present current data on the status of the mountain gorillas as well as many details of their natural history and the natural history of the environment in which they live.  I will also discuss anecdotally some of my personal experiences with these wonderful beings.


22 January: Topic:  Paradise in the Pantanal


  Brazil is perhaps most famous for the great Amazon rainforest and the biological riches it possesses.  Few are aware of a region of Brazil that possesses wildlife that, while perhaps not as diverse as the rainforests of the Amazon, exceeds the Amazon in its “viewability”.  The Pantanal is one of the world’s last remaining great wetland – savannah ecosystems.  It is far from untouched by humans.  In fact, the ecosystem fabric of the Pantanal has human interaction thoroughly entrenched in its complexity.  Even with the human presence in the Pantanal, wildlife thrives and flourishes in delicate harmony.  But the region is not without its perils, as we will learn in this discussion.


29 January: Topic:  The Great Australian Outback and Daintree         


 Australia is absolutely a land of enigma.  The flora and fauna have evolved in myriad forms and diversity on this continent-sized island.  Separated for millions of years from other landmasses, various plant and animal groups have had eons to evolve in to species found nowhere else on earth.  This photo essay will focus on two incredible regions  - Kakadu National Park and the ancient Daintree Rainforest.  We will see wonderful birds and animals in their natural habitats and discuss their interactions.


05 February: Topic:  The Wildlife and Natural History of the Beagle Channel


 Darwin sailed through this previously unnamed channel during his famed “Voyage of the Beagle” in his pursuit of knowledge of the world’s undiscovered biodiversity.  Darwin was impressed with the wealth of wildlife and native peoples found in this region located at the southern extremes of the Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia zone.  We will focus on the natural history of the vast and endangered southern beech forests and the wildlife that call them home.  We will have opportunities to see great penguin and cormorant rookeries and a great wealth of marine mammals that also make their homes in this spectacular setting.


12 February: Topic:  The Wildlife of the Indian Subcontinent


When people think of India and Nepal, they generally think of a rich and ancient culture with a heritage that transcends time.  Few are aware of the incredible biodiversity of the subcontinent that once rivaled Africa’s Serengetti.  This photo essay will focus on the wildlife of northern India and the Terrai lowlands of Nepal.  We will have opportunities to see tigers, deer and primates subsisting together in their natural habitats and alongside humans.  We will discuss the truly difficult situations facing the wildlife in these areas and their losing battles with the exploding human populations there.


19 February: Topic:  The Outrageous Okavango!


Purported to be one of the world’s last remaining truly wild places, the Okavango offers the nature traveler a dizzying array of wildlife and microhabitats to explore.  Although the simple future existence of the Okavango remains a matter of intense international debate, it still provides an intact wetland home for a multitude of Africa’s mega and micro fauna.  Home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals, the Okavango runs profuse with wildlife.  We will view images of the various animals, birds and plants in their natural setting and discuss the future of this magnificent aquatic world.       


26 February: Topic:  Rainforests of the World!


Were do we start on a topic as broad as this?   While it might be common knowledge that the rainforests of the world are under intense pressure from humankind, and are homes to a majority of the world’s plant, animal and microbe species, few are aware of what makes a rainforest tick.  In this photo essay will be explore the intricacies of many of the world’s great rainforests while viewing images of many of the plant and animal species found there.  We will “visit” rainforests in such remarkable areas as Brazil’s Amazon basin, Costa Rica, Panama, Congo, Viet Nam, Thailand, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.  No doubt this will be an ambitious evening, but it WILL be informative!


04 March: Topic:  The Galapagos Islands!       


No natural history lecture series would be complete without some time devoted to one of the premier natural history destinations – las islas galapagos!  Having provided Charles Darwin with the ammunition for his revolutionary theory of evolution, the Galapagos epitomizes island biogeography at its greatest.  Volcanically formed and separated from any major land mass for roughly three million years, the Galapagos have provided the species of plants and animals present niches to be exploited and selective forces to drive speciation that is perhaps more easily viewed than virtually any other place on earth.  The simplicity of the ecosystem and the relatively low biodiversity make such observations easy for even the novice naturalist.  Our journey will take us to several of the islands that comprise the archipelago and feature many of the animals that make them famous.


11 March: Topic:  The Great Wilderness of Antarctica           


When the topic of Antarctica comes up, most people think of a vast wasteland filled with ice, ice and more ice.  While the ‘ice’ part might be somewhat true, Antarctica offers and incredible wealth of wildlife.  For example, the crab-eater seals are the most numerous and biomassive of any mammal on earth outside of Order Chiroptera (the bats).  Antarctica houses perhaps the world’s last truly un-touched wildernesses.  In this journey, will be spend time in huge penguin colonies representing at least three species and witness massive elephant seals battling for mating rights.  We will see other various marine mammals in their natural habitats as well.  The complexity of the Antarctic ecosystem will be another focus along with the political foundations that ensure its status as one of the world’s wildest places!