Peter Beard Pushes His Luck

Nature Photographer Explores Raging Curiousity

Above all, Peter Beard is an adventurer. He has spent half his life on safari in Africa, shooting wildlife, more often with a camera than a gun. Former CBS News Correspondent Paula Zahn recently spent some time with Beard in Africa.


Sometimes he might have found a gun useful. A few years ago Beard was trampled by an elephant.

"I didn't feel the tusk go through me," Beard recalls. "But I did feel this sort of freight elevator coming down, popping the chicken bones, you know."

"It blinded me," he adds. "Everything was black. It was bright noon day sun."

"You mustn't get walked on by elephants," he says drily.

Beard was told he'd probably never walk again, but three months later, he proved the doctors wrong.


Peter Beard and Paula Zahn observe a giraffe on his property in Kenya.
It's ironic that an African elephant almost took Beard's life. His most famous book of photographs and essays, The End of the Game, was an attempt to save the diminishing elephant herds of Africa. But Beard didn't travel to Africa to take pictures. He went, he says, to experience the unspoiled life.

In 1972, Beard bought 40 acres of land just outside Nairobi, Kenya. His property is home to many animals, including wild rhinos, cheetahs and lions. These giraffes belong to the neighboring game preserve and have access to Beard's property.

Beard first went to Africa for the thrill, he says. He went right after graduating from Yale University, seeking some escape from a wealthy background. His great-grandfather built the Great Northern Railroad. "My family was never happy with me. I could just say that across the board."

There are many different descriptions of Peter Beard. Some of them are actually true, he says. Asked if his reputation as a recreational drug user is true, he heartily agrees. He is also known as a man who loves women. As a fashion photographer, Beard is constantly surrounded by beautiful women. Now on his third marriage, Beard has rarely been a one-woman man.

"Sex is not a dirty word, as far as I'm concerned, because on top of everything else, there is no guilt in nature," he says.

Zahn and Beard went on safari together and ended up witnessing a giraffe give birth. It was an astonishing, memorable sight. "What you hope is gonna be still left in life [is] something that relates to natural history instead of fake history that you memorize at school," Beard says.

Only one other experience rivals this feat of nature for Beard, and that was the birth of his child, Zarra.

"To be honest, she was a totl accident, becauseÂ…my whole work is on population [control]. It is a miracle; it's total magic. And it's the most creative thing I've done. And I'm into it totally." Beard is just finishing a children's book called Zarra's Tales, named after his daughter.

What does he think about when he reflects on his 60 years? "Life is just a flick of the fingers," he says. "Let's face it. And any little bit - you can expand it or enrich it. I think you want to push that and do it."