The MJ5: National Geographic Photographer Ronan Donovan Talks Motion-Triggered Cameras and Riding Dirt Bikes Through Eastern Europe

Eureka, Nunavut, Canada - Ronan Donovan walking downhill on tundra with camera and tripod. Market Road Films/Tony Gerber
Market Road Films/Tony Gerber

National Geographic explorer and photographer Ronan Donovan has seen some incredible things in his career. He’s traveled the world, documenting wild chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, exploring Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and living in Yellowstone National Park to photograph the day-to-day lives of gray wolves for a year.

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Most recently, Donovan spent time in the high Arctic in Canada on Ellesmere Island to study a pack of white wolves for the Nat Geo WILD special, Kingdom of the White Wolf. For three months, Donovan tracked the wolves for 20 to 40 hours at a time, riding an ATV to traverse the beautiful but barren landscape. With the Arctic summer in full swing, it meant the sun was out for 24 hours a day.

“The experience was like being on a different planet,” Donovan told Men’s Journal. “There are no trees, a frozen ocean, a sun that never sets, and white wolves that’ll walk up to a landing helicopter because they’re curious. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.”

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It goes without saying Donovan has tested his fair amount of gear and enjoyed some epic adventures. We spoke with him about the essentials he can’t live without, his favorite places to travel, and more for the MJ5.

On his must-have gear: My motion-triggered cameras. I use custom motion-triggered camera systems designed to capture extremely close images of wildlife. They’re incredible and essential for what I do. For example, the opening image for the Arctic Wolf magazine story in National Geographic is from a specific camera system designed by a team of engineers at National Geographic Society.

On his most memorable adventure: I once rode a 125cc dirt bike 3,000 miles through Eastern Europe.

Eureka, Nunavut, Canada - Ronan Donovan sitting on ATV near base camp. (Market Road Films/Tony Gerber)
Market Road Films/Tony Gerber

On his go-to workouts to prep for expeditions: Single-track mountain biking never feels like exercise to me. I also like to do a daily exercise routine that uses a combination of yoga and pilates along with core-strengthening exercises.

On his favorite drink: Passion fruit juice on a hot East African day.

On his favorite meal: Korean bibimbap is the top of my list.

Check out the full MJ5 archives for more interviews with NFL star Russell Wilson, ice climber Will Gadd, surfer Kai Lenny, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk,, Avengers star Chris Evans, and more.

Kingdom of the White Wolf is now available on Video On Demand, the Nat Geo TV site and app, for purchase on EST platforms and on HULU.

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