A DAY IN THE HERD

From Ol Pejeta we head to Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu National Reserve, a unique place to get up-close-and-personal with elephants. We leave from Kamok, the “Ol Pejeta International Airport”, where the control tower is a giraffe and planes have to buzz the airfield first to clear the zebras and impalas before landing. Bit of a contrast from London’s Heathrow and not exactly the Virgin Clubhouse.

Yao Ming's Transportation Samburu National Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Samburu National Reserve is drier and much hotter, characterized by dried out riverbeds with very little green vegetation except around the fast moving red mud of the Samburu river. We have a fantastic welcome from the Save The Elephants and Elephant Watch staff, many resplendent in their traditional and colorful Samburu warrior garb.

Yao Ming Greeted by Staff of Save the Elephants and Elephant Watch

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

This time I skip the duty-free and mount up into the open top and side Land Cruisers and bump down the dirt road. The animals are harder to spot in the scrub, but tiny antelope, called dik-dik, are everywhere. These beautiful miniature deer are so delicate they look like every step would break them and I learned they mate for life and if one of a pair dies it’s partner will never mate again.

Straight from the airstrip we head for the riverbank.  Our guide is David Daballen from Save the Elephants, a soft-spoken Samburu who has studied elephants for the past 12.5 years; his mentor is Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the African Elephant.

Yao Ming at Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

As we round a corner, there it is — the dark gray bulk of an elephant, then another, and another, and another! Slowly we position ourselves right in the middle of a herd of twenty or more, sheltering from the midday sun beneath the trees, methodically stripping at branches for food.

Yao Ming Surrounded by a Herd of African Elephants in Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Suddenly I realize that between 3 medium-sized elephants is a tiny baby lying down resting, her sisters towering over her, positioned in a protective triangle.

A baby elephant in Samburu Reserve

I can already see how these animals watch out for each other and are a close-knit family. I just can’t believe I am sitting in an open vehicle a dozen feet away from wild elephants! They flap their ears gently and sniff the air with their trunks like a periscope, but they know David’s vehicle, his scent and the sound of his whispering voice and are completely unconcerned by our presence.

Yao Ming Surrounded by a Herd of African Elephants in Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

David knows every member of every family in the reserve, as well as their family history. Poachers killed this one’s mother two years ago, another member of the family had to then step into the role of matriarch at a very early age and the responsibility of leading the herd to food, water and out of harms way ways heavily upon her, she looks a bit depressed. At first I think the emotions are exaggerations, perhaps too much, but the more I learn and observe, the more I realize how much they share with humans – lifespan, adolescence, family bonds and emotions – as David explains this I can see it there in front of me by the way they are interacting with each other.

Yao Ming in Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

The life histories are disturbing. So many of these animals have been lost to the poacher’s bullet, and yet they still trust us, allowing us to be a part of their lives.

For lunch we have a picnic at the riverside and we are just finishing up when the elephants decide to gatecrash our party!

More to come on that…

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8 responses

  1. Cindy Walker

    Amazing pictures! Keep up the good work Yao the elephants & rhinos are depending on you! Thank you for making this documentary

    August 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm

  2. Amazing experience….keep up the great work!!

    August 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm

  3. annacanazza

    Amazing experience … wonderful work you are doing..

    August 17, 2012 at 8:38 pm

  4. It’s so great that you are bringing awareness to this cause. Wonderful photos. Keep up the good work.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm

  5. Alyssa

    Yao – your descriptions and commentary are insightful and moving. I don’t recall enjoying a blog as much as this one. Keep up the amazing work and sincerely hoping others find your words and cause as important as they should!

    August 28, 2012 at 8:31 am

  6. Fantastic blog, truly inspiring and my friends are learning about WildAid’s effort’s through it.

    August 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  7. Emilianna K.

    Thank you for bringing more attention to this devastating loss. I’m motivated to donate and spread awareness. More Chinese people, especially the ignorant buyers, need to be aware of this issue and care more about the planet and the environment.

    September 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm

  8. I have been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It’s beautiful worth enough for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made good content material as you did, the net will be a lot more helpful than ever before. “It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.” by Dr. Rob Gilbert.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:44 am

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