We then visit the Save the Elephants field station. A crushed pick-up sits outside as a monument to what can happen if you get on the wrong side of an elephant. Every panel was crushed as it was rolled over during a clash between two bulls.
Living next to elephants isn’t always easy — in some areas, crop raiding is a real problem. But here, where people rely on goats and camels rather than crops, there seems to be a peaceful co-existence.
En route, we see a mother lioness and two cubs sitting probably eight feet from our open vehicle. Peter Knights tells me as long as you remain in the vehicle, the lions will show no interest in you — step out and they’ll either run away or run after you. I’m a nice “medium rare” from the equatorial African sun, but I’d rather not be on the menu today!
As we watch, I notice movement behind me and see an elephant sniffing the air and then trumpeting and spreading its ears to make it seem much larger. We move out of the way and then the elephant shows who’s boss and clears the lions out shaking its head at them. They scamper off, occasionally turning back to consider trying their luck, but discretion is the better part of valor.
Sir Iain Douglas Hamilton tells me they know all of the elephant families and track their movements using radio collars that would break our backs, but are lightweight for the elephants. Using Google Earth, they are able to track an individual animal’s movements and identify corridors between parks, which can then be protected. At another site in the Maasai Mara, they have a male elephant named after me. I tell Iain I was a Rocket, not a Bull, but I am looking forward to being able to track my elephant namesake. I hope he stays safe.
Finally, we head out to record a Public Service Announcement with the elephants. They obligingly march right past me in the vehicle as if they know we need their help to get the message out to please not buy their ivory.
On the way to meet one of the world’s most endangered animals – the white rhino – I come across some other interesting characters.
First, there is a pack of African wild dogs – which, I’m told are quite hard to find – on the open plain chasing after jackals. They are the size of a small dog, but when they work as a pack they can take down a zebra or wildebeest.
Then, we see a beautiful cheetah and an 8-month old baby – another lucky find.
The baby even attempts to chase our vehicle. An endearing sight I will not soon forget.
Next, we track down a collared lion using a radio signal. I’m happy to act as the radar tower until a storm brews and lightning beckons and I realize that holding up a metal antenna might not be such a good idea! The animals are tracked to learn more about their behavior, I learn from Simba Zhuo, a Chinese conservationist working in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
Lions are now endangered – falling from a population of 200,000 a hundred years ago to only 20,000 today. This is because of habitat loss, largely to agriculture uses, and conflict with livestock. On top of that, their bones are now targeted for Asian medicinal use, because tiger numbers have been so depleted.
And then, I meet Najin and Suni.
More on that soon.