To stay at this camp and spend a day with the elephant researchers is, I can honestly say, one of the most remarkable, humbling and worthwhile experiences that I have ever had.
Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s charity, Save The Elephants, is based in Samburu Game Reserve in Kenya. Saba Douglas-Hamilton, a wildlife film maker following in her father’s footsteps, allows one a privileged insight into their family life consisting of her children and her conservationist husband Frank Pope, who is COO of Save The Elephants and works with Saba’s father, Iain. You may have already seen the family on BBC2’s This Wild Life in 2015?
Save The Elephants are active on a number of levels. In order to conduct research on elephant behaviour and ecology, they were the first to pioneer GPS radio tracking in Africa, enabling them to glean so much information on these magnificent pachyderms and to assist in defending them against poachers and traffickers.
Working tirelessly with wildlife parks and communities in an effort to reduce elephant poaching, they have also developed an Elephant Crisis Fund, assisting countries across the continent to end the demand for ivory.
At Elephant Watch Camp, one can also see the rigours and logistical challenges of running a camp in Africa, which Saba does with calm aplomb and style, following in her mother’s footsteps. The food too, is simply sensational. It is all fresh, coming from their farm in Lake Naivasha and with her mother being Italian, it focuses on light, Mediterranean style with lots of freshly made pasta. Too delicious for words!
Elephant Watch Camp is our favourite place in Samburu. No safari to Kenya is complete without a stay here! Having stayed at Elephant Watch Camp, it really embodies everything that is wonderful about Africa. I can also say, it is the only camp I have ever visited and left in tears – of sadness!
It is very much a family run camp which makes it all that bit more special. However it is also not for everyone. If you are a city slicker looking for minimalist design and large villas – then this place is not for you.
If you are somebody who is looking for an authentic experience, a gorgeous tented camp, festooned with brightly coloured swatches of fabric and cushions, and a down to earth but first class experience – this is it.
Offering a genuine, old fashioned style safari, the tents come with separate bucket showers (of hot, steaming water filled as often as you wish), flush loos and a veranda which overlooks the Ewaso Nyiro River. The bathrooms are en suite but open to the air which is just how it should be!
There is nothing quite as romantic as showering beneath the stars at night! And the staff? Oh, you just want to take them home with you – they are all truly wonderful!
An abiding memory is going for a sundowner and listening to the guides start their traditional dancing and singing as the sun was setting. We didn’t ask for this – it was completely natural – and left us with complete goose bumps!
But of course, the reason we came was because of the elephants. These extraordinary creatures are disappearing at an alarming rate – 100 000 over a three year period. Africa does not have enough elephant to sustain this butchering.
Here, at Save The Elephants, Iain, Frank and the whole team are doing everything in their power to keep track of their elephant herds and to protect them against ivory poaching as much as possible. Iain is the world authority on the African elephant and is on the board of CITES – which is against the legalisation of ivory – which so many African countries want to overturn.
Samburu reserve is fabulous for seeing elephants and they have seemingly come to know the vehicles of the Elephant Watch Camp as well as the Save The Elephants researchers, allowing one to come that much closer than any of the other lodge vehicles.
The guides at Elephant Watch Camp are superb and are well in tune with these magnificent beasts so even at the camp, one can often see them wandering close by, sensing that this is a safe haven for them. For a donation, they can take you to the research station of Save The Elephants so one can meet the dedicated researchers.
Save the Elephants also partners with several other conservation charities in Kenya, but the one that is closest to my heart is the Mara Elephant Project.
MEP was founded in conjunction with the Government of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, community conservancies, Save the Elephants and Seiya Limited. This partnership model with both governmental and non-governmental organisations plus local stakeholders has enabled the organisation to do so much good.
They focus on a small number of key activities by leveraging the resources of their partners to traverse great areas, collar elephants, analyse collar data and cut across political boundaries to improve the security of elephants and reduce the rate at which they are being killed illegally.
The MEP have developed and successfully manage two rapid response units and six anti-poaching patrol units consisting of 31 rangers that monitor both poaching and human-elephant conflict hot-spots and react to intelligence reports.
Currently, there are 23 collared elephants which they monitor via Google Earth daily. MEP focuses on candidates that will gather useful spatial data meaning elephants in border areas, areas of conflict or areas outside conservancies or national reserves. They are also looking for crop raiding elephants identified across the dispersal area.
The collared elephants in most cases represents a whole herd that may be at risk. MEP’s 23 collared elephants provide data that is being used daily to mitigate human-elephant conflict, inform ranger deployment and anti-poaching work, and promote trans-boundary cooperation within the wider ecosystem.
One can stay at Richard's Tented Camp in the Maasai Mara - home to one of the trustees of MEP and a long-standing friend of mine. Whilst there, with prior approval and sufficient notice, it can be arranged for one to visit MEP's visitor centre and talk to the rangers and scientists to understand their projects, as well as see their helicopter if it is not out on patrol. On the way back to camp you can take a game drive to track and see one of the collared elephants in the wild.
The MEP are always in need of donations as it can cost up to $24 000 to purchase a collar for one elephant, track its movements and secure its future. However, they will accept any amount of donation in support of their work which can be sent to the charity directly.
I never tire of marvelling at elephants –I simply cannot imagine Africa without them – yet if we cannot turn the tide of poaching, there is a harsh reality that the only place we could witness them would be in a zoo. A thought that none of us could bear.
Tourism is vital to enable conservation to continue, so by visiting you really can help. Start the conversation if you would like more information.
Images provided courtesy of Elephant Watch Camp and copyright to:
Background, header image, and image 6 of herd drinking - Michael Nichols
Image 2 of the family by the river, image 3 of game drive, image 4 of the mess tent, image 5 of Saba and her baby with guide - Tim Beddow
Image 7 of game drive with guide - Hilary Hurt