Imagine living in a place where you and your brother are the only kids. Where everyone lives in tents, and there's a fire burning all the time for warmth and cooking. Where wild animals walk or run past day and night. Where the nearest village is a 20-minute ride away–in your mom and dad's airplane.
Madison McNutt, 12, and his brother Wilder, 8, live in the southern African country of Botswana at Wild Dog Research Camp, where their father studies wild dogs and other big predators. Their mother works with local children, teaching them about conservation of the natural world.
More than a dozen adults live at dog camp, including their teacher, workers to help cook and keep the camp clean, and college students who have come to learn about wildlife. Wilder describes the set-up: "Fifteen tents in camp: Ten for researchers and five for camp staff. We also have an office and an underground office ('cause it gets hot in the day and underground it is cool), a kitchen, a garage tent, and a laundry tent." And they have a small museum where they keep all the bones and skulls and teeth of animals they find.
The boys live in their own tent attached to their parent's, several feet off the ground like a tree house. The camp toilet is a hole in the ground, and everyone showers and bathes outside under the stars. Sometimes at night the boys spot animals like hyenas that come to the birdbath in camp for a drink. Sometimes there is a lot of excitement.
"The wildlife at night is very dangerous," says Wilder, "so you have to be extremely careful. Last night some hyenas killed an impala in camp They made a huge ruckus and I was up for about two hours listening to the noise."
The boys attend class in camp about four months out of the year; Madison's favorite part of the day is when school gets out. "Then I can go do other stuff, like going out with some of the students to research cheetahs or wild dogs or lions or hyenas or leopards."
Madison, who wants to train dogs for the movies when he grows up, likes the wild dogs the best: "They are very social animals and are always nice to each other." Both boys have learned a lot about the animals their father works to understand and protect.
Wilder's favorite animal is the leopard. He says, "They are very strong and they are beautiful. They were here first and it would be sad if they were not here to look at."
Text by Catherine Clarke Fox