I’m Gabriella, one of the new interns at the STE research camp in Samburu. I’ve just finished my second year at university, studying natural sciences and I’m looking forward to spending the next two months here in the African wilderness!
Before flying to Samburu I had a couple of days in Nairobi. I managed to go to Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust where they care for young elephant orphans. Amongst signs declaring “WARNING – please do not put your hand into the orphan’s mouth or risk losing a finger” the orphans greedily drank their milk and played with each other, occasionally coming close enough for us to pet them (avoiding the mouth of course). It was interesting to hear each of their stories and to see first hand the effect poaching has here.
I arrived at camp on Wednesday, and was immediately thrown into an elephant survey on the way back from the airstrip. I was given a huge file of elephant identification photos, and that was only the families – there was a whole other file for bulls. The first family we spotted were the American Indians, across the river. A short while later we came across an enormous herd of elephants, made up of more families than I can remember. They surrounded the car and it was amazing to sit there for so long, just enjoying watching them and their interactions with each other. I particularly enjoyed the clumsy grazing of the youngest elephants, still unsure of how to use their trunks.
The highlight of the day, however, was when we came across the carcass of Queen Victoria (the elephant), a member of the Royals family. She died sometime in June. I’d heard about elephants visiting the carcasses of dead relatives but this was the first time I’d ever seen it. The visiting family was the Clouds. It was the most surreal scene – the elephants lined up to smell the carcass and move bones around, just like people line up at funerals to see the casket (but hopefully not to smell it and move bones around).
I’m sure that once I begin to get my head around who’s who and how the individuals are related to each other, observing the elephants will only become more and more fascinating!