The Secret Lives of Elephants (Kenya)


by Luke Dittrich, National Geographic Adventure Magazine

Date Published

Eight men. One hundred and thirty miles of Kenyan desert. And one supercharged bull elephant. What do they all have to do with conservation? Everything.

Thirteen men, three of them carrying assault rifles, are conducting business in a desert. Six of the men arrived in a battered Land Cruiser, which is parked a hundred yards away in the meager shade of an acacia tree. The seven others are members of the Gabbra tribe—Kenyan by nationality, nomads from birth. The Gabbra live here, in the Gof Munde, an expanse of martian wilderness in northern Kenya, 50 miles of lava and dirt from the nearest town. They sustain themselves by trafficking in certain goods that certain people find useful. Most of them don’t even speak Swahili, Kenya’s national language. Their leader does, though. He speaks English too. His name is Abdullahi Boya Galgallo.

Galgallo wears immaculate brown pants, a pressed khaki shirt, lightly tinted sunglasses. He’s standing next to the leader of the Land Cruiser group, Jake Wall, who wears military boots, a military watch, and a military camo-print sun hat.

Galgallo smiles at Wall. A gold tooth gleams in the oppressive sun.

“So tell me,” he says, “have you ever purchased a camel before?”

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