I’d been travelling to southern Africa for twenty years before I finally set foot in East Africa, taking my first foray into Kenya a few weeks ago. And wow, was it worth the wait!
April is the wet season in Kenya, and so apparently not the ideal time to go, but let me tell you those vast open plains are right out of a Hollywood scene from ‘Out of Africa’ no matter what time of year you go, and the fact that they were covered in an ocean of knee-high grass didn’t mean we missed out wildlife-wise. It was simply magical.
But this trip wasn’t any old trip. If you’ve read my last blog or two, you’ll know that since moving to Singapore in July last year I’ve been working on different ways to help reduce the poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa caused by rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia. I think the key is in reducing consumer demand, and so, when I met Asian TV host and model, Nadya Hutagalung towards the end of 2012 and, soon after, she agreed to come to Africa with me to see elephants and rhinos in the wild as well as the ugly side of the story – the poaching – I was delighted. This was Nadya’s first trip to Africa and there is nothing as special as that.
The trip turned out to be everything we expected and more, but its purpose, first and foremost, was to raise awareness about the need to stop buying ivory in Asia. That’s why the whole adventure was filmed by Nadya’s TV production team from Asia’s Next Top Model. The journey will be released as a series of short videos on youtube as well as a Public Service Announcement across Asia on Fox TV channels on 12th August, which is World Elephant Day! Soon we’ll be asking you to get involved and help by sharing these videos far and wide through your own social media networks. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project…
Based at the divine Ol Donyo Lodge and working with The Big Life Foundation for most of our time, Nadya and I were thrown right into the hard reality of what’s happening to elephants and rhinos throughout their range. On our first day, Richard Bonham, the legendary head of operations for Big Life, took us out on anti-poaching patrol with his incredibly hard-working scouts to show us the fresh carcass of a rhino that had been snared around the neck by poachers and suffered intolerably for 5 weeks (read the full story here – but be warned, it’s terrible). The Big Life team have a big fight on their hands, and it’s a war that is being fought across Africa to feed the demand for ivory and rhino horn.
It was a huge thrill for me to meet some of the big names of elephant conservation that inspired me two decades ago to become a wildlife conservationist and writer – people like Cynthia Moss of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save The Elephants and Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. But they all warned us that the poaching we are seeing now in Africa – both of elephants and rhinos – is worse than it was in the 1980s. We have reached crisis point, and this time, the numbers of both species are much lower than they were before. For both Nadya and I, seeing the big herds of elephants in Amboseli National Park and also the enormous wild bulls, like this one pictured, was among the highlights. Sadly, bulls like this are prime targets for poachers because of their impressive ivory.
For the full story of what we got up to that week in Kenya, you’ll have to wait until August when my new book, “Planet Elephant – family, love and the global wildlife trade” hits the shelves in Australia. It’s a book that ends with a bang in Kenya, after covering ten countries across Asia and Africa that have elephants and/or rhinos, and there are no shortages of the action and adventures that I’ve filled my other books with! I’ll be in Sydney for the launch and there’s bound to be the odd event that week to celebrate (stay tuned – details to come). But for now, here’s a sneak peak of the cover and the story! More updates coming soon….