by Oria Douglas-Hamilton

Date Published

Dear friends and family

As I sit on my rock overlooking the beautiful landscape, I can finally tell you “the drought has ended in Samburu” and with it wonderful things have happened. The outlying hills and mountains are dark, as if newly painted against massive white and grey clouds looming above us streaked in sun-setting orange light, and all over the land, green grass, green bushes, green trees can be seen. It has been raining nearly every day since I arrived, the river is flowing, gently and continuously taking all the stress and hardship with it.

Today we have food in abundance and water everywhere. The earth is rich damp dark brown. Nature is extraordinary, ever changing, regenerating, on the move, reproducing – each day racing to catch up for all those desperate dry months. Thousands of little acacia elatiors are sprouting all along the river bank and the grass seems to be growing while I look at it. I barely dare to tread on it while I walk my walk and this week the ‘lamb tails’, little white flowers have blossomed and from far it looks as if it snowed.

So before darkness engulfs me I am sending you this Xmas and end-of-year letter written about 5 kms from my camp, the only place where we can find network to phone right now – it is our daily outing, all pile into the Landcruiser and hope to catch up with news.

I have been in Samburu 6 days. We are opening the camp – abandoned and alone for 2 months, it is springing into life again – with all the bright freshly washed and ironed drapes, a blaze of colour in each tent swaying with the wind like prayer flags welcoming strangers and friends back to our camp. The kitchen is clean and stacked with provisions – Elai and I have prepared the menus and filled the jars with freshly made jams, jellies and honey, chilli oils, puddings and sauces, ready for our Xmas guests.

Not many animals are around right now – a good sign as they have moved to the outer edges, to the back hills, with plenty to eat and big rain pools, giving the park time to regenerate. No cattle, sheep, goats either, but lots of birds and insects. Even the dikdiks seem to have disappeared, and after so many months of drought, what pleasure it gives me to watch my 2 early morning dikdik walking by my tent in a thick carpet of green nibbling at the tender grass and leaves. Each morning I measure the height of some shoots with a stick and they have already grown 3inches!

Dawn breaks early with a bird chorus of such vigour – the spotted morning thrush being the loudest, with no time to waste, life is now for living and eating while it lasts; and it’s amazing – the trees along the river are thick with seed pods and a mass of chattering weaver nests hang like Xmas decorations on each branch. Yesterday, while sipping tea on my veranda, a whole troupe of vervets filed past me, each one with a tiny dark baby clinging to the stomach-fur with its little round face and long ratty tail wrapped around its mother – all off to pick fresh pods, herbs and flowers out yonder – the monkeys too have gone, but OH come march all will change when they will be back in camp en masse running and pouncing over everything.

Nights are ablaze with enormous stars, silent, but for baboon calls telling me that a leopard is on the prowl, no easy days of hunting for them now, and the big cats have to work hard for their food. Only geckos, bats and furry long-tailed mice feast on swarms of insects racing to the bright bulbs – first it was little beetles, next grey moths and then the princesses – flying ants leaving their underground nests with the rain. I cant believe the change. It is so special to be away from city life and see nature at work. I do hope some of you will manage to get back and see this with us soon.

The West Gate school is closed and children are waiting for their exam results. We had a wonderful gathering of all our sponsored students on saturday at STE and I know Justine will write about it. I felt so proud of them, having struggled through this year and some sat for their finals, Benjamin, Zeituna, Justina, Hassan, Solomon – each one dreaming of a better future. How their lives have changed since we found them 4 years ago. I wish they could stay with us – but like big mama elephants, we have to push them out to seek another world. It will be tough, but we are there to help. With so many sheep, goats and cattle having died, [some families lost 90% of their cattle] the women and children still have no milk yet. They are frail, look better and are overjoyed with the rains as they too wait for the first calves to be born, while the warriors go out to raid neighbouring tribes. That is their way of life, planned by ‘Ngai’. Soon we will have weddings, celebrations and babies of every kind.

The elephants – may ‘Ngai’ protect them too as they wander out of their safe havens to the front line. Crops are growing again and there is always someone at the ready with a gun should any of them venture near the fields. Mountain Bull was shot over a week ago but survived with wounds. He was found streaming with blood; the vets were called in and managed to shoot a dart of double antibiotic into him. He seems to be ‘ok-ish’, his collar is still ticking away, so we can keep a close eye on his movements. He is now safely in Borana, we can only hope the bullet did not shatter a bone. I know and hope our elephants will all be back very soon full of food and life and I cant wait to be right next to them splashing and wallowing at the big mud holes. We are counting them in. Breeze is fine, she made it through the drought, so did Toto Raj and many more babies. God knows what they ate all year, but what ever it was they found in those dry sticks, it kept them going and though we lost some of our old ladies and babies, and several of our bulls were shot – many are still alive.

The illegal ivory trade, white gold, is ever present and growing, a good commodity to sell in China and never enough. Alas every elephant with big tusks is a marked animal. My friend Lori wrote from China ” I am left with the impression of an aggressive and money-hungry people who have little time for the finer things in life. Money is God and Progress is money. ” All this is Very much on our minds – price of ivory is high, and Iain is fighting with his colleagues to find ways to stop the elephants being downlisted at the coming CITES meeting in Doha. I see a big battle ahead next year.

And so from my rock, as the light fades, I bid you fare well, with some good news to end 2009. We will all be in Naivasha for Xmas. Plenty of rain, and brimming with animals, though the lake is rapidly retreating. Iain and I are monitoring, measuring and mapping it. Saba has arrived back from London with Selkie, Frank is surfing in Portugal, and Dudu has just got back from Zimbabwe full of news and is expected on the 22nd with Bundi. Mike Fay will be with us too and as he prefers, will be sleeping outside on the veranda with the dog. Iain is well and so am I and we hope the same for you. From all the D-Hs, the STE researchers, all at EW and Naivasha our thoughts are with you and we send you our very warm wishes for a Happy Xmas and an exciting New Year ahead and thank you for all the letters, donations and thoughts that you have constantly sent us. It is soo appreciated here in Africa – as they say here when we leave “Shomo na Ngai” – Go with God.