Samburu Mornings


Eric Van Cleave, International Intern

Date Published

I woke up in my Nairobi hotel room to the sounds of cars honking and lorry engines roaring in the street below. It was early, the sun had just risen, but the city had begun to stir long before. I found that I felt well rested and excited, which was surprising given that I could scarcely find any sleep the night before. After all, I had just spent over a day traveling here from America and I was finally only a short plane ride away from my final destination: the Samburu National Reserve where I would be spending the next month as an intern with Save The Elephants.
This was to be my first trip to Samburu and only my second time visiting Kenya. Like many others before me, I was instantly captivated by this country’s abundant natural beauty, breathtaking wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. Therefore, when I had received the news that I was accepted for this internship position with Save The Elephants, I was elated by the idea of returning to Kenya. As soon as my small twenty-seat plane had touched down on a dirt airstrip just outside of the reserve and I took in my first breath of cool, dry air I could not help but feel a sense of renewed wonderment and anticipation for what the month ahead would bring. It also did not take me long to realize that this was not quite the Kenya I had remembered visiting only eighteen months before. This was to be a new adventure, with many new sights and experiences.

Of course, I am not here merely as a tourist, but to do work for an organization that is trying to conserve the magic of Kenya for future generations as well as enrich and educate its local communities. My primary duty as an intern will be to assist on the so-called Human Footprint Project, using satellite imagery collected from recent years to document areas of human disturbance across the Ewaso ecosystem, which is home to diverse and abundant wildlife including many of Kenya’s treasured elephants. Large portions of this area also happen to be slated for human development in the coming years, and are currently experiencing growing levels of human disturbances. Tracking these changes in areas known to be important for the seasonal movements of elephants and other wildlife is therefore an important task for understanding how greater levels of human development will impact these populations in the coming years. That is not to say that my time is solely occupied sitting on a computer. Already in my first week in Samburu I have spent plenty of time out in the field assisting the research team with the long-term monitoring of elephants, conducting censuses of mammals around the park to document their changing spatial distributions, and I even had the opportunity to ride along in STE’s small survey plane to check on whether a conglomeration of vultures spotted in the park was the result of a deceased elephant (thankfully, it was not).

In contrast to that noisy Nairobi morning my first day in Kenya, I now wake up to the calls of hornbills and weaverbirds giving alert to the rising sun. As I emerge from my tent, I am greeted with the sights of a lazily flowing river and, occasionally, juvenile vervet monkeys wrestling playfully in their sleeping tree. Before I start my workday, I like to sit down near the water and watch as the wildlife begin to stir. It is not hard to feel excited about the day ahead because one never knows what amazing opportunities it will bring. Behind every Acacia tree and on the far side of each hill lurks the potential for a new and special memory. It is this potential that makes the work here feel ever the more fulfilling because it directly benefits the wildlife and helps ensure that local communities and visitors from all over the world will be able to share similar experiences well into the future.