As an aspiring conservation biologist (yes, that is what I write as my profession on passport control forms), especially one seeking opportunities with megafauna in Africa, I am often asked what I actually do. Beyond the funny anecdotes of the trials and tribulations of field work, I often wonder myself how what I may do fits into the greater conservation picture.
For that reason, I was very excited to learn that I would be interning for Save the Elephants (STE), a well-established and equally well-respected conservation organization that spans the conservation spectrum from scientific research to its practical application on a local level, to global outreach and awareness. As an STE intern, I will have the good fortune to witness what that really looks like on the ground. The hope is to use the experience and understanding gained here at Samburu National Reserve to determine how I may be able to help wildlife conservation in the future.
Daily, the Long Term Monitoring (LTM) crew takes to the field in pursuit of Samburu’s elephants, most if not all of whom have been named and identified over the consistent monitoring by STE since 1997. The challenge, and really the excitement, of field work is the unknown. The setting is far from the control that a laboratory might offer, as the elephants move of their own volition and are often driven by resource needs. Beyond the elephants themselves, other factors can interfere with our progress, be it the breaking down of a tried and true field vehicle or the muddy roads restricting passage to possible elephant habitat. Even if the stars align and the research subject is located and positively identified, they may not produce a sample (ok fine, poop) for hours on end or do so in an area that we cannot reach. Of course there is a flip side, you spend your days driving through a beautiful national reserve, the savannah landscape marked by expansive vistas and towering mountains, and observing the varied wildlife that makes its home here. Who could ever tire of watching a baby elephant fan out its ears and toss its floppy trunk in mock charge their vehicle?
Once the field work for the day is done, data has been entered, and the layer of sweat from a long, hot day in the field has been washed away, the calm of the evenings sets in. After catching up on personal correspondence or fitting in a quick yoga session, dinner time arrives and with it the opportunity to listen to and partake in interesting discussion about STE’s elephant conservation work, especially if there are visitors staying at camp, including the STE leadership and their colleagues from around the world. It is fascinating to hear about all of the moving pieces required to remain on the front lines of the present elephant poaching crisis, from how to use technologies (Did you know that an app could help save elephants?) to how best to engender partnership support from around the globe. Seeing such collaborative efforts, both with organizations here in Samburu and across the continent, for wildlife conservation is inspiring and essential, given the need for a more united effort to protect Africa’s elephants. On a personal level it is also very interesting to hear about the professional paths of various staff members and STE partners have taken in the world of wildlife conservation.
I am doing my best to soak it all in and absorb as much of the knowledge and expertise that surrounds me here at STE and hope to share some of my field adventures in the weeks ahead.