I am in the middle of an interview when David and Oria move the vehicles around in a protective circle, like a wagon train from an old cowboy movie, and we get in to watch the action. As a herd of 40 or more elephants comes straight towards us, a large bull in musth (when they are ready for romance they drip a strong smelling secretion from the glands at the side of the head) comes striding across the river.

The wildlife of Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Bulls in musth can sometimes be aggressive and unpredictable so it’s quite intimidating when one comes marching into the herd less than 20 feet from me. The great deep rumbles and the excited trumpets sound all around me and there’s a lot of charging around and elephant bumper car action going on. The ladies get excited when the big man in town arrives, David tells me. But it all ends peacefully and the herd heads off into the bush.

An African Elephant in the Samburu Reserve

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

They have another surprise for me. As the sun starts to go down, I head up to a hill with a spectacular 360 degree view flanked by a dozen Samburu warriors, some of whom work at the camp, singing traditional songs.

Yao Ming Flanked by Samburu Warriors

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

As the last light of day slips away, they present me with an 8ft spear and ask me to become an honorary Samburu warrior with the name Lenasakalai, a legendary warrior who protected the Samburu people.

Yao Ming Presented With an 8ft Spear by Samburu Warriors

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

“Please go back and fight for the elephants for the Samburu people” says Bernard Lesirin, a young warrior and top guide at Elephant Watch. They then begin their dancing, jumping straight up into the air and all around me. If the cameras weren’t on me, I would join in.

Dance of the Samburu Warriors

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

They light our fire literally by rubbing two sticks together in the traditional way and as a thousand stars and the Milky Way appear above my head, accompanied by the hypnotic chanting of the warriors, I feel like I am being taken back in time. Until the ring of a cellphone in one of the warrior’s pockets reminds me that here the past and the present intermingle.

Samburu Warrior Lighting a Fire

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

We then retire to the Elephant Watch Camp, a beautiful tented camp shaded by large trees overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River. As well as paying guests it is frequented by vervet monkeys, who are quick to steal any food left unclaimed even for a second.

Elephant Watch Camp

Photo by Peter McBride

It has a very organic feel to it and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, our host, had even brought in a Shanghai-style Chinese chef, Mr Tang, to make me feel at home. They have built me a custom made bed with my name spelled out in wood, made from fallen trees around the camp.

Custom Bed for Yao Ming at Elephant Watch Camp

Photo by David Bebber

This is still the bush and Pete warns me to shake out my shoes before putting them on to check for scorpions. I’m a bit disappointed that I never actually find one!

I leave exhausted, having packed a week’s adventure into a single afternoon with a warm glow and perhaps a little sadness that if we are not careful, these ceremonies and the traditional Samburu way of life, like the elephants, may not be around forever.


8 responses

  1. A beautiful journey,it seems.

    August 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

  2. annacanazza

    Wonderful …

    August 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm

  3. abigail

    As HOU Rockets fans, we miss Yao Ming very much! Not only his basketball but most of all his wit and wisdom just set him apart from the typical professional basketball player.

    I’m glad to see him growing in his interests and advocacies since he retired from the court. He continues to make us very proud! Truly an ambassador of and to the world!

    August 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm

  4. You are now a complete hero – not only an awesome athlete, but humanitarian and global citizen. THANK YOU.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:51 pm

  5. I am honoured to see Yao Ming helping the people of my Samburu neighbourhood fight the evils of poaching.

    August 21, 2012 at 2:49 am

  6. Roy Chang

    These photos are beautiful!

    August 21, 2012 at 6:20 am

  7. Krisel

    what a lovely photos!

    Our world really needs more Yao Mings – one who truly cares and with a conscience.

    Thank you for using your fame and talent to do something good in this world and to help educate people that rhino’s horn and elephant’s ivory doesn’t do anything but bring profits to the hustlers and worst endangered these species.

    May God truly bless you, Mr. Ming.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm

  8. These pictures & your story show just how beautiful the home of the elephants & this ancient tribe really is. Thank you for giving your time to such a worthy cause, Yao Ming

    August 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm

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