China’s State Media Agency Visit to Save the Elephants in Samburu


Frank Pope, COO

Date Published

It was our great pleasure to host a delegation from Xinhua, China’s state news agency and the world’s largest media outlet, on a visit to Samburu last weekend. The eminent director of Xinhua’s Africa operation, Mr Wang Chaowen, was joined by five of his journalists as he came to meet wild elephants and witness with his own eyes the impacts of ivory poaching.

The team arrived at lunchtime on Saturday and were greeted just inside the reserve gate by the Winds family, together with some lions. For many of the journalists it was their first time to see the majesty of an elephant in its own environment, and by the time they had arrived for lunch at Samburu Lodge they were already in love.

After a quick introductory tour of the Save the Elephants research camp we headed back out. Xinhua drove in an open safari vehicle with Serenoy Letoiye, a guide with Elephant Watch Camp who has been trained by STE to recognise all the reserve’s resident elephants. Beneath the arc of a rainbow we met a bull named Ndeki, and with him the Swahili Ladies, an elephant family that only occasionally graces the reserve. They’re a little more nervous than our resident families, but they eventually came wandering right past our vehicles.

The rains have been plentiful in Samburu and the park is looking lush. As the sun sank lower and painted everything golden there were gasps of admiration in the vehicle. Lulu (a delightful writer who studied English Literature at Beijing University and knows the classics far better than me) said that she had never been to a place where all she could hear were the birds and the insects, and where the air felt so pure. “I feel like I’m walking in my dreams,” she said. Her colleague, Chris, agreed with a happy smile.

The next morning we went to witness the other side of the equation, and visit the remains of Ngampit (‘Bigfoot’). Ngampit was shot inside Buffalo Springs Reserve on 13th March. His bones have been scattered by hyenas and his skin picked apart by vultures, but there’s still an awful atmosphere to the location. We were joined there by Peter Lempatu, a young Samburu pilot from the Northern Rangelands Trust, and by two rangers from the Nasu’ulu conservancy. Everyone gave interviews about the on-going poaching crisis, and Lynn recorded a piece to camera.

After visiting Ngampit, we headed up to the Buffalo Springs Airstrip to see a quick flying demonstration by Peter Lempatu, then back to Save the Elephants to look at how we use Google Earth with our tracking system to better understand elephant decision-making and their needs. Finally, we sat down to a well-deserved feast. We did our best at serving Chinese food to make our guests feel welcome, but in the end needed a bit of help from Xinhua’s Lulu and Chris!

As sunset approached we drove up to a low hilltop that offers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. Two rainstorms were tracking across the distant hills and another rainbow appeared. More than a dozen Samburu warriors and junior elders had gathered who then danced as a goat was roasted in celebration.

We’ve already seen the first of the releases put out on Xinhua’s web portal in the form of three photo stories – one on the elephants themselves, and one centred around the demonstration of our tracking programme. In the coming days and weeks we’re told to expect a TV special and a feature story.

Part of the power of Xinhua is that, being the Chinese state media agency, their stories are risk-free and get picked up by media outlets across the country. We’re most excited by this aspect of the weekend and the prospect that many more people in the world’s most populous nation will understand how special elephants are and the dire situation that they face. We’re also excited to have made new friends and been able to show them the wonders of a world they’d never glimpsed before.