Seeing death amongst wild elephants and hearing the stories and songs of the Samburu tribe, Samburu Reserve, Kenya.
I arrived late to the beautiful Saruni Lodge and had no idea what would await me this morning. Vistas as far as the eye could see and light that made the scene look as though I was gazing at a life-sized watercolor painting. What a special place this is in every way.
This peaceful feeling was disrupted by the sound of a helicopter coming across the valley towards our high cliff top home. It was striking to watch the machine settle on the rock, and its windy landing brought the quick realization that we were about to witness the reality of what brought me here: a poached elephant in the nearby Il Ingwesi Conservancy. We lifted off and gracefully flew across the arid terrain, spotted with herds of zebra, giraffes and the camels that I am told define these nomadic tribal lands.
It was not long before this magnificent landscape was made a very sad place. Before me, the slumped remains of a huge elephant. David, Saba (Iain Douglas Hamilton’s filmmaker daughter) and Iain describe the scene for me. Based on her size and age, she may have even been a matriarch, which means that her calf would probably be dying as I stood in front of this once magnificent animal. She would have died a slow and painful death because poachers are now avoiding detection by swapping noisy ak-47’s for spears and poison arrows. She died under the shade of a tree and her bodily fluids had pooled just next to her. The footprints of many elephants coming and going were everywhere. The team explained that African Elephants appear to grieve the loss of their own and there is much documentation to show that when elephants find bodies and bones of other elephants, they caress the bones and sometimes carry them away.
It took me by surprise, but I could not help weeping tears. Tears for the loss of this mother, her wisdom, her many years on this earth, her possibly dying baby and the THOUSANDS of elephants experiencing the same fate at the hands of greedy poachers, traffickers and speculators-- and at the hands of people who simply may not know where their ivory comes from--and for what?: trinkets, carvings and commodities that we DO NOT need.
Our brave and knowledgeable KWS warden showed me in real terms the dangers they face when he pulled up his shirt sleeve to reveal scars from bullet wounds that cut across his arms and back—the result of a shoot out with well armed bandits.
As I spoke to Saba, I felt so much for her and her father and all of those like them who have been on the front line of this “war” for so many years. I had to reflect on their experiences. Over 25 years ago, Iain’s scientific data helped bring about a 1989 trade ban and things looked pretty good for so long. But now he has to witness the massacre again, to start his fight again—and the stakes are so much higher as there are fewer elephants and a seemingly huge and un-quantified demand. And as I stand with his daughter, who is continuing his legacy, and begin truly to understand the commitment and sacrifices of the people here and all over the world who want to end this slaughter, I ask myself is it possible to break this chain of death and destruction—of animals, of people, and of Africa’s heritage. It is a monumental challenge; but this sight, and the passion of all who I have met, make me determined to fight this fight because it is the right thing to do. Never has my celebrity voice felt so powerful, so needed.
My hope is that when people become aware of the bloody ivory chain they will just say NO. Nature is beautiful, and precious, and then you witness this. Products that must be obtained through a gruesome, painful and bloody death are just out of sync with modern civilization and our ancient culture, which support the harmony of humans and nature. Ivory is not cool. Rhino horn is not cool.
And I share my tears with the world to ask that we respect and try and preserve our planet’s rich biodiversity, and that we stand in solidarity by saying NO to these products.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with media from around the world, sharing the experience of watching elephants play, eat, learn, fight, teach and rest. It was wonderful and renewing to witness the thriving elephant families and to see the joy that all we spectators felt as we captured these moments in our minds and on our cameras.
Our afternoon was spent at the Douglas-Hamilton’s magical Elephant Watch bush camp. The divine Samburu warriors greeted us as old friends and we had a glorious lunch under the sausage trees just next to the river. Many from the near-by Samburu village gathered to come and tell their stories about the historic relationship they have with the elephants and the important role these animals play in their lives. I heard a story from an ancient Samburu lady who was part of the “elephant clan” and said that her clan was so connected to elephants that they could communicate with each other. What a gift to have been let in on such an authentic tribal culture. This exists in so few places in the world; it’s as if they are as old and wise as the elephants themselves.
The day ended with traditional Samburu dancing which is a collage of colorful beads, red earth-colored shukas, sparkling silver adornments and deep harmonized voices. It took me into a trance as I watched the movements and let the sound fill my body. As I watched, I reflected on the special people I had met and the moments I had witnessed. The ups and downs of each moment against the backdrop of a schedule that has had our entire team traveling for weeks on end. These three days were a little piece of magic that I hoped to carry with me, to give me the energy and passion to carry on with my work and with protecting elephants. I said later that night in my first “toast” in English, under the brightest star-filled sky that I had ever seen, that I would never be the same for having been here. I had been deeply moved and inspired-- by the people and the place; but first and foremost by the wild elephants. I also thought that if we can’t manage to save an iconic and universally-loved species like the elephant, what hope is there for saving the honeybee or the fish of the oceans? Small creatures, but upon which we humans rely? With this in mind, I ask that we all make our choices more carefully and by being as informed as we can be. We have just one earth.
At dinner on the final evening, Saba christened me "Sampiripiri," the Samburu word for butterfly. With this inspiration, I hope to help lift elephants (and rhinos) from their plight. My message about ivory and rhino horn is simple. NO BUYING NO DYING.comments powered by Disqus