For more than a century, National Geographic has captivated its readership with breathtaking photographs gathered from the four corners of the Earth – and now a long-time WND photojournalist will find his work featured in its glossy pages.
Anthony C. LoBaido, a photojournalist and contributor to WND, will have his photograph of Lek Chailert and her elephants published in “National Geographic Explorer Book 2″ in Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
The photo was first featured in a Sept. 26, 2008, article in WND written by LoBaido after he spent nine weeks documenting and photographing the plight of abused elephants in Thailand and Sri Lanka. The photo will be featured in a half-page spread.
“When WND first began hiring full-time reporting talent in 1999, one of the very first people we identified for a staff position was an intrepid, adventurous foreign correspondent by the name of Anthony LoBaido,” said WND Editor and CEO Joseph Farah. “Why? Because, as I used to say, we could just drop him into any war zone by parachute and he would be off and running – reporting, taking pictures, capturing the color and the tone oblivious to the danger.”
Farah added, “He was also a character – and every news organization needs characters. It’s wonderful to see him still accomplishing so much as a photojournalist all these years later.”
WND has published various series featuring LoBaido’s photographic works. Some of his best photos can be found in his articles, “Capturing the world on film” and “More of LoBaido’s favorite photos.” Additionally, in “Lens crafters,” LoBaido shared his philosophy about photojournalism.
“In terms of curatorial practice regarding the art of photography, National Geographic is the ultimate Rosetta Stone,” LoBaido told WND. “I’ve successfully completed photographic assignments in 48 countries – from Nepal to Namibia, from Laos to Lebanon, from Cuba to Cambodia and from Belize to Botswana. But getting into a National Geographic publication has always been one of my ultimate quests as a photojournalist.”
Lek Chailert, the woman in the photo that will be published by National Geographic, has been featured as Time Magazine’s “Hero of Asia” and lionized by National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and many other publications. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once invited Chailert to the White House for a personal meeting.
LoBaido said the photo was taken several years ago at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There was a baby elephant on hand, “Goldie,” whom Lek named after the first elephant she had been given as a little girl.
Lek Chailert is the “Mother Teresa” of Thailand’s elephants. Follow her in LoBaido’s “Elephant nation” as she evolves from a diminutive jungle girl into a world famous elephant advocate gracing the pages of Time Magazine and National Geographic.
LoBaido has a close personal relationship with Chailert.
“When Lek’s mother-figure passed away in the summer of 2011, I helped carry her body for the creation ceremony. She was a godly, kind woman named Nancy,” he explained. “Similarly, I would walk through fire for Lek. She is one of the bravest, kindest, most decent women in the entire world.”
In 2011, there was even talk of a Hollywood-style movie about Chailert starring Michelle Yeoh.
“The baby elephant in the picture was surrounded by ‘aunties,’ meaning full-grown female elephants that act as guardians,” LoBaido explained. “They had, in effect, adopted ‘Goldie.’ They are very protective of their young, and they won’t hesitate to kill you if they don’t trust you.”
But Chailert encouraged LoBaido to “break the circle,” meaning he would walk in alone to photograph and play with Goldie while surrounded by the “aunties.”
“I remember Lek saying, ‘Anthony, don’t be afraid. You love the elephants so much, and they can sense this,’” he recalled. “Among many seminal moments in my life, that’s one I’ll never forget.”
In addition to his work in Thailand, LoBaido has also photographed elephants in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
“Elephants are the most amazing and noble of God’s creatures. They mate for life. They love their young. They’ve carried ancient armies across the Italian Alps,” LoBaido said.
“I was told a story by a park ranger in Botswana who had contracted malaria,” he said. “When she passed out in her sickness, a herd of elephants came along and covered her up with branches. They thought she was dead, but in actuality they saved her life by protecting her from the heat of the day. Similarly, I believe the elephants are worth saving.”
As for the genesis of LoBaido’s love of animals in general, and elephants in particular, he recalled how his late mother, Viola, read to him from Bible picture books when he was only three years old. The Bible stories dealt with Old Testament heroes such as Moses, Lot, Ruth, Daniel, King David and LoBaido’s favorite, Noah.
“My mother was a beautiful woman of style and grace. She adopted me as a six-month-old baby. I was in an oxygen tent, and there were times they didn’t think I would live even one more day,” he said. “Our relationship was based on honesty, truth, depth and insight.”
LoBaido’s mother grew up during the Great Depression in a house without heating. She slept with her three sisters in a single bed. LoBaido said she never owned a toy or received even one Christmas present. She made dolls from rags and clothespins.
“Still, she considered herself to be rich beyond measure because of the strong heart, kind character and generous nature of her adopted daughter, my sister, Carol-Donna, and her loving husband, my father, Anthony Sr., who was drafted to fight in the Korean War and served in a military police unit while traveling over North Africa and Europe,” he said.
Viola’s brothers fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day and helped liberate prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp. They helped build the Burma Road and equip planes flying over “The Hump” from India to Western China, ferrying supplies to fight the Japanese. LoBaido’s uncles took troop ships from the U.S. to South Africa and to British India.
“Within the confines of our home, heroic exploits were not only expected, they were actually quite commonplace,” he said. “Thanksgiving Day and Christmas conversations about the Great Depression and World War II were like watching the History Channel come alive.”
LoBaido’ late mother’s own youthful adventures were of interest to others, and his late father was also a talented photographer who gathered starkly elegant pictures in North Africa and Europe. LoBaido said his mother had wanted to become an international correspondent but traded in those dreams to raise her beloved family.
“I remember when I was working closely with the Hmong remnant inside of Laos and in refugee camps where they were housed in Thailand,” LoBaido recalled. “I had help in these assignments for WND from the late Col. David Hackworth, the founder of Delta Force and the most highly decorated soldier in the history of the Vietnam War. Col. Hackworth sometimes called our home and spoke with my mother at length about her brothers’ service during World War II.”
LoBaido gushed, “She had this amazing effect on everyone. I’ve met many famous people in my life from the fields of sports, politics and religion: Boomer Esiason, Bruce Hurst, P.W. Botha, Margaret Thatcher, President Bush Sr., Mother Teresa and many others, but still no one has ever had an effect on me like my mother.”
His mother wanted everything done right, LoBaido said, in the physical and moral sense.
“There was no alcohol in her house. She often spoke of how we would be required to stand before Jesus Christ on Judgment Day,” he said. “She spoke of the sacrifices made by so many millions of Americans during the Great Depression and World War II.
“Above all else, she would say, ‘Never be unkind,’” LoBaido said. “To stand up for the persecuted was another expectation, and it made my parents happy that I would stand up for the Hmong in Laos, the Montagnards in Vietnam, for UNITA in Angola, for the ethno-European famers being raped and murdered in South Africa and the former Rhodesia, for the people of South Sudan, for unborn children, for HIV-positive throw-away babies in South Africa and many other stories I investigated and published for WND.”
He added, “I might also point to trying to broker a meeting between Lek Chailert and Aki Ra regarding the issue of elephants and how they step on land mines. It’s important to leverage relationships between various stakeholders. People like Lek, Aki Ra and Harry Wu are modern saints. It’s an honor to know them, write their stories and to be able to call them ‘friend.’”
WND Managing Editor David Kupelian said, “During the years he worked full time for WND, Anthony was a sort of journalistic Indiana Jones whom we would dispatch to the far corners of the world to research and write all sorts of terrific and colorful stories. Some of them – like his coverage of the plight of the Hmong tribes in Laos, and the Karen people in Burma – made a positive difference in the fate of these persecuted groups. Since then, Anthony has continued his globetrotting, and I’m glad to say still contributes stories to WND.”
During one of his exploits, LoBaido spent time with Aki Ra and his land-mine clearance crew in a live land-mine field in northern Cambodia. For LoBaido, living with and meeting the remnant of the Khmer Rouge is part and parcel to a life of adventure.
LoBaido captured his stunning images with film for almost his entire career as a photojournalist before switching to digital in the Utah Badlands in September of 2011.
Asked about his ultimate journalism adventure, LoBaido talked about his pilgrimage to what is believed to be the biblical Noah’s Ark in southeastern Turkey.
“When I was very young, I saw a documentary film on Noah’s Ark at the movie theater in Babylon, Long Island,” he said. “I decided that one day I would make a journey to Mt. Ararat. In the year 2000, I did make such a journey and met many wonderful Kurdish Christian people, as well as Muslims, who live in the region and believe that the story of Noah and his Ark are actually true, historical events.”
The documentary LoBaido saw was the 1976 film, “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” below:
LoBaido shared his philosophy of journalism: "To be a real journalist means to have courage and take risks. It means having the courage to go into very dangerous places and find new stories on your own.
"Real men and true journalists pay a great price: I've been struck down with malaria in both Laos and Cambodia. I had a concussion at the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal. I crashed my motorcycle and tore the meniscus in my knee in Southeast Asia. Sometimes I've found myself fighting for my life on city streets like some character in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film.
"I was nearly struck blind by a terrible case of bacterial conjunctivitis. I fell down two flights of stairs, completely separated my shoulder and still had to haul over 800 pounds of gear – alone – all across Thailand. I was bitten by a very poisonous spider in Cambodia and was in and out of the hospital for 17 days."
Through it all, LoBaido said his mentor was the late Dr. Loyal Gould at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
"He would often say, 'Few people can even imagine the tremendous price that the best journalists must pay,'" LoBaido said. "And you know what – he was certainly right."
But even in a world of ever-changing headlines, endless news gossip and uncertain times, LoBaido said it's important to always remember what's truly important:
"As my late mother, Viola, often said, 'Only God's opinion of you matters. When you live your life in the service of others, and risk everything you are and everything you have to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, then you'll have something more precious than gold or diamonds or rubies – you'll have God's approval.'"
The following is a list of some of LoBaido's top articles published in WND:
"Lens crafters": Do you want to become a National Geographic-caliber photographer? What does it take? Explorer the very genesis of modern photography with two French brothers who as intrepid inventors asked Napoleon for a patent and forged new pages in history. Journey with LoBaido to the Himalayas, Kalahari Desert and points beyond.
"Elephant nation: Saving the big grays": Lek Chailert is the "Mother Teresa" of Thailand's elephants. Follow her as she evolves from a diminutive jungle girl into a world famous elephant advocate gracing the pages of Time Magazine and National Geographic.
"Real hope where leprosy's despair and death reigned": Myanmar's Sisters of Charity care for more than 400 lepers at "Happy City" – a tiny enclave that was once the eastern most stop in British India (Pakistan-India-Bangladesh-Burma). The Mother Superior grew up fighting the Nazi SS in occupied Italy. Take a journey with the first journalist to ever visit this leper colony.
"Repair war damage: Soldiers who care": A finalist in CNN's "Heroes" contest, Aki Ra, a former child soldier with Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, has dug up more than 50,000 land mines. Journey with LoBaido as you live and work in a live land mine field with the crew of Aki Ra while they operate under the watchful tutelage of an adviser from the Australian Special Forces.
"Memorandum to a cannibal": You've seen the hit Hollywood film starring Leonardo Dicaprio. Now it's time to learn the true story behind the film. LoBaido debriefs the 200 Rhodesian and South African mercenaries who took out 5,000 rebels from Sierra Leone and Liberia in just over three weeks. LoBaido's "Memorandum to a Cannibal" is a prequel to Dicaprio's "Blood Diamond." It's a unique piece of history that would otherwise have been lost to the world.
"Harry Wu on the real China" and "Beijing's 'new' patriotism fuels anti-Americanism": Follow Harry Wu's journey from a care-free youth playing shortstop, to a political prisoner in China's slave labor "laogai" system, to a professor teaching chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley and finally a human-rights champion.
"Little drummer girl": Remember some years ago when the Miss World Contest in Nigeria was suddenly stopped and moved to Europe under strange circumstances? Now learn the true story of Karen Russell – a former gas station attendant in the tiny Central American nation of Belize who found herself in the No. 1 position in the pre-judging of the Miss World Contest. Yet Karen traded in her Cinderella dream to help Amina Lawal (and her baby daughter, Wasila), who had been sentenced to death by stoning for a crime Amina did not commit.
"The great betrayal" depicts the saga of the Hmong people who fought for the CIA during the Vietnam War in small team special operations units. Left behind to die, follow their epic rescue from the Thai-Lao border as they're given many thousands of visas to relocate to the United States.
"The Real Lawrence of Arabia": Follow LoBaido as he retraces T.E. Lawrence's World War I trek through the Middle East. You know the legend from the famous Hollywood film. Now with LoBaido as your guide, you'll learn the true story behind the myth in exacting detail. That truth is, Lawrence of Arabia was groomed for his grand military role since childhood (including language training, physical fitness training and an academic thesis mapping crusader castles in Syria) by a British Intelligence agent and archaeologist named David George Hogarth.
"A Yank in the British Army": Travel with LoBaido as he trains in the jungles of Central America with the British Armed Forces. Learn the secret behind the famous esprit de corps of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire Regiment – a legendary unit that traces its origins back to the Battle of Alexandria in Egypt against the armies of an emperor named Napoleon.
"Inside the CIA's psychic program" and "The feds' psychic spies": George Clooney and Kevin Spacey teamed up to create Hollywood's portrayal of CIA-funded psychic spies diligently working to collect intelligence overseas in "Men Who Stare at Goats." Now LoBaido pieces together the true story behind the film. Assisting in this quest is professor Jessica Utts, the first person allowed to analyze all of the files from the "Stargate Project" with the backing of Stanford University and the University of California at Davis.
"In search of the Yeti": For centuries the mystery of the Yeti has confounded mankind. In Nepal, tales of the Yeti abound, depicting the creature as a kind rescuer and protector. Even the national airline is named "Yeti Air." Journey with LoBaido to the Himalayas in a quest for salient answers.
"In search of Noah's Ark": It is indeed a timeless tale. A man named Noah was asked by God to build an Ark to save humanity – and many of the Earth's animals – from a global deluge. Tales of Noah's Ark can be found in many cultures around the world. LoBaido takes the reader to Mount Ararat in search of one of mankind's greatest mysteries.
"Cuba searches for national soul": Cuba is an amazingly beautiful and diverse country. Follow LoBaido as you unravel the many mysteries of this unique island Caribbean paradise. Once beholden to the former Soviet Union, now Cuba is making new friends like Mainland China and Venezuela. Experience the cuisine, music, multiculturalism, patriotic feelings, Spanish language, devotion to baseball and athletics, practice of Santeria and the de facto rise of Catholicism.
"'Little Angels' rescue victims of baby rape" and "'Rainbow Family' cares for AIDS babies": Little Angels rescues Cape Town's black throw-away babies from various garbage dumps, offers them retroviral drugs and then nurses them back to health – all before brokering adoption overseas to caring families. Learn the story of a white South African couple that has devoted their lives to this singular cause.