From Mountain Lions to African Elephants


Yiwei Wang, PhD, International Intern

Date Published

Hello everyone! My name is Yiwei and I am the newest intern for Save the Elephants in Samburu. I hail from California, where I recently completed my PhD work on mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains ( My research focused on using accelerometers, GPS collars, and camera traps to monitor mountain lion and other carnivore behaviors in a human-dominated landscape. I was lucky to be friends with Steve Mandel, who helped introduce me to Wildlife Conservation Network and, through them, STE. I am really excited to work for STE because I have always wanted to conduct research in Africa and to work with an organization that is tackling urgent conservation issues.

Samburu Airstrip

I flew into Samburu on April 13 from Nairobi, and I have already learned several lessons about living in Africa. Two of the most interesting ones are: 1. Don’t be surprised if warthogs and zebras are on your runway when your plane is landing and 2. Lock your doors when you leave your room to avoid a baboon and monkey party. Although I’ve only been here for two days, I feel like I have witnessed several months’ worth of amazing wildlife activities. After studying an elusive predator that is never seen in the wild, it is amazing to be able to observe research subjects literally from 3 feet away!

One of many elephants seen on the way back from the airstrip

On the way back from the airstrip (it doesn’t quite qualify as an airport), I saw over a hundred elephants! Many of them were enjoying mud puddles and splashing around having a grand old time. I have seen elephants in zoos before, of course, but it is a transformative experience to see them in the wild, roaming around freely and enjoying their days. These are magnificent creatures, and I feel that anyone who takes the time to observe them in their natural habitat will feel an urge to protect them and promote their continued survival.

Elephant calf enjoying a mudbath

It is also quite an experience being in camp. As researchers, we have staff who take care of us by cooking, making our beds, doing our laundry, and escorting us to our rooms at night (to keep us safe from the wildlife). At first, it was a little surreal (like being in Downton Samburu), but I now think it is great that there are these job opportunities for the local people and more ways for us to interact with locals. Like other field camps I’ve been to, we also have a few adorable bush pets – like a hornbill, a genet, and an orphaned gazelle that I haven’t seen yet. That’s it for now; I will keep you updated on my adventures and Samburu activities over the next 3 months!

Rains falling over the Ewaso River