Unelker Maoga, International Intern

Date Published

I’ve been at the Save The Elephants Research Camp as an intern for only 3 days and the experience – to say the least – has been awesome! I didn’t think they were serious when they mentioned that we would interact with wildlife… now I know! I’m used to waking up to the sound of an annoying alarm clock, but for the past few days I have woken up to the sound of an elephant; Sarara either walking within the camp or pulling at vegetation by the river at exactly 6:30am every morning – talk about the perfect alarm clock. The thought may seem frightening at first but it’s actually one of the best experiences I have come to know, more so because the Samburu elephants are not like other elephants, they are very, very friendly. It’s definitely gonna be a great two months here!

On my first day out I saw many elephants (and that’s an understatement), the main agenda for the day – as is the usual routine – was elephant identification as well as observing their behaviour which is part of the long term monitoring program here at Save The Elephants. We get very close to the elephants as members of the STE research team glance at these large mammals and jot down a code number which is specific from every elephant. I’ve been told that the numbers make up the official naming system of elephants. How they identify over 170 elephant in a single day out by looking at it for one split second you ask? … I’ll let you know when I have learn how to.

As I learn about elephants and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to blend in with the wild, the realization that the need for the conservation of all wild animals has already kicked in. While driving around, we came across two vultures that suspiciously looked poisoned. We may not necessarily know how they got poisoned, but rumour has it that locals are fond of contaminating animal carcasses and allowing the vultures to feed on them. They eventually die and this stops them from attacking their cattle. This has definitely affected their numbers, rangers around say that as the days go by it gets harder and harder to spot a vulture. With a 97% decline rate, recent reports have shown that aside form elephants, vulture populations in Samburu and Kenya are now under threat. You may not like vultures, but the thought of never being able to see a vulture again is not a happy one.

Experts responded as soon as STE staff raised alarm about the two vultures we spotted, and although we’re still not yet sure whether poisoning is the cause of the behaviour of the vultures we spotted, the fact remains that their population is increasingly under threat.

The unexpected encounter with vultures has made me acknowledge that the need for conservation of all wild life is urgent. The ecosystems, they say, is a community of interacting organism, and when one organism is affected so are others.

As I spoke to one of the senior scientists of STE at the breakfast table the following morning, he mentioned something that is necessary for all conservationists and animal lovers to always keep in mind; the environment is always changing, new conservation practises as well as solutions need to be implemented to meet the demands of an ever changing environment. In essence, I have come to see that this is what the team that works to save the elephants does. Through their long term monitoring project, they hit the nail on the head. The data collected will definitely be useful in the long run, not forgetting their keen interest for all surrounding wildlife of Samburu. Save The Elephants are working to conserve elephants for the sake of today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

I look forward to learning more and working with Save The Elephants as I spend my time studying the ever changing plains of Samburu to conserve elephants and possibly even vultures.