Creature Comforts

14th July 2010
by Mat Beckwith
International Intern

Camp life can present some unique challenges to overcome, such as inescapable heat, tent-raiding monkeys and the ever-present danger of snakes. However these unique challenges require unique solutions.

Petro

Petro

This is our resident hawksbill, named “Petro”. As a hawksbill he is preyed upon by snakes, so he quickly emits a warning call when he spots one; as his eyes are much keener than ours, this is often far before we would be aware of the snake. Thanks to this vigilant bird we all feel a little safer during mealtimes.

There are several troupes of vervet monkeys that live in the tree canopies above STE camp, and will raid your tent if given the opportunity. However, using the thorns of the acacia tree and some sticky-tape you can “monkey proof” your tent zipper.

Vervets

Vervets

Potter wasps are insects with large wings, and are ever-present in the STE camp; as they cannot sting they are not a threat as much as they are an annoyance! Rather than using insect repellent to keep these wasps away, the small air currents generated by their wings are great for keeping you cool.

So as long as you are resourceful, you can turn what would otherwise be considered a nuisance (thorns, wasps, squawking birds) into an advantage. This is just one of the many valuable lessons to be learned at STE camp.

Tranquilize, and work quickly

July 12, 2010
by Mat Beckwith
International Intern

Mat pic of me

My name is Mat Beckwith; I am finishing my studies at high school in England, and will have the privilege to be attached to Save The Elephants as an intern for the entire month of July. I have had so many experiences in the past few days that each merit their own blog entry, but for the moment I wanted to share the details of our latest undertaking: How to de-collar a lion (hint: see title).

In recent days the camp has been bustling with visitors and guests, including Shivani Bhalla and her team of lion researchers who are based in the nearby conservancy of Westgate; this is because we are preparing to de-collar a resident lion whose GPS collar has stopped transmitting. The team began the search for the collared lion “Lguret” early this morning, and were able to locate him at around 6:30.

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I had the incredible opportunity to make up part of the team, serving as a group photographer. Lguret was found resting with his brother Loirish in the thick shrubs surrounding the nearby river, and was darted from one of the vehicles. Loirish fled into the undergrowth, and the rangers with us stayed vigilant in case he returned! Once Lguret was sedated, the researchers quickly set about removing his restrictive collar and checking to see if Lguret was otherwise healthy.

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Lguret was found to be the picture of health, and still growing at around 4 years old, despite already weighing a hefty 150kg. Once the sedatives began to ware off, team members retreated to a “safe” distance and waited for Lguret to regain consciousness. However we still had the tricky task of protecting this vulnerable lion from a nearby family of elephants. Thanks to some “creative” driving by team members the elephants were chased off (for their own good as well as the lions’s), and Lguret made a full recovery.

A tremendous sense of relief was felt by all, since the whole operation had gone according to plan for Lguret, who can return to roaming Samburu without the extra weight of his collar. To be able to take part in the de-collaring was a once in a lifetime opportunity that the other team members and I won’t soon forget!

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My last blog-by Kathleen Hopkins

June 29, 2010
International Intern

This blog will be more of a legitimate wrap up of the past month, just to let everyone know what we at the STE camp were up to.

My job at camp was to wade through the immobilization records for the past 10 years. I matched every paper copy with the database, and then cleaned up all typos. That took about the first week. Then I analyzed the data and wrote a (in my opinion) a pretty good report about my findings. Some of the stuff was really interesting to find. Someone really needs to do a real study on the exact dosage needed to down a bull, as their data was all over the place. It was really interesting to see.

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When I wasn’t in the office, I went out with the long term monitoring team (LTM) and helped them observe the elephants. It really is amazing how unafraid the elephant families of Samburu are of cars. We spent the first two weeks really focusing on the northern side of the river, as the bridge a kilometer from camp was completely devastated by the flood. Around the third week of my stay, David decided that we really shouldn’t keep neglecting Buffalo Springs. So we drove a car around, which takes about an hour and a half, and spent a whole day over there. We conducted a mammal census, which is where we count every mammal we see. It is a lllooonnngg process.

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Since we didn’t want to waste petrol driving back and forth all the time, we left the car in the lodge directly across the river from camp. And then we waded. Yes, we waded through a river that I have personally seen Nile Crocodiles swimming in. It was both the stupidest and bravest thing I think I’ve ever done. Luckily, no one got chomped.

Unfortunately, too, the batteries started dying in camp around the second and third week. We’d have power throughout the day, when the sun was out, but as soon as it started to get dark (or it was super cloudy) the power would shut off.

Everyone in camp found that life without power can get pretty boring. We hunted scorpions in the dark, and lit them up using a black light (they light up so much under UV light! It’s the coolest thing ever). We had a few snake scares (two 6 ft spitting cobras, and one puff adder), and luckily a full moon.

My time at camp was really an amazing experience, and I can’t believe that I’m sitting in Nairobi, about to leave. I am so thankful to everyone at STE for letting me have such an amazing time, and I hope I’ll have the chance to see them all again soon.

How I spent my time in Samburu

June 23, 2010
Zeituna Mustafa
Kenyan Intern

Zeituna

My name is Zeituna Mustafa.Am a Kenyan intern. Am so happy to have come for my second internship at our STE camp.My collegue from America is called Kathleen Hopkins.I help her to clean up the immobilisation data and also she helps me learn different packages of the computer.So far i don’t have any problem with three packages of the computer.That is Excel,Word and PowerPoint.

I spend most of my time in the field doing Long Term Monitoring of the elephants and also Mammal Census.Its so much fun observing elephant behaviours and also identifying them.With the little time i can now identify some families with the help of some individuals.After floods the bridge  was no more in use therefore we have to leave our research car on the other side of the river for efficiency during the next field work because going all the way to the other side is a very long journey and it is time consuming.Therefore we cross the river by foot which is very adventurous.When we cross the river the water is always kneehigh.The only risk is you can not see when a crocodile is coming.

At this time of the season we also have a lot of snakes in the camp.The reason why they are very many is because after the floods a lot of sand was deposited therefore the moist sand is ideal for breeding of snakes.I got to see types of snakes like puff adders,spitting cobras and other small ones.But as researchers/conservationist we don’t kill the snakes.

Am very greatful for everyone who made me have a great time in the camp.The staffs are very welcoming and always very ready to help.I also help them to file data and also sometimes enter the data into the computer.Its been a successful internship.Thank you.

Interning at Save the Elephants

June 22, 2010
Kathleen Hopkins
International Intern

Hey guys. I’m so sorry that it’s the end of the month and my time here at STE, and I’m just now writing an intern blog. This month has sped by, and I can’t believe that I’m about to head home in just 4 days.

Since this was my first time in Kenya, as well as all of Africa, I had no idea what to expect. This was definitely a trial by fire sort of experience, and I have learned an incredible amount. I figured for my intern blog, I would try write up 10 points of what to expect during your trip to Kenya. If you’re thinking about interning with STE, or have already been accepted, I hope that this guide will help somewhat!

1. Something will go wrong.

It’s okay. Just be flexible and don’t get too stressed, and you’ll have it figured out. My flight from Nairobi went to the wrong airstrip and dumped me in the middle of nowhere without a working phone. But due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to get where I belonged.

2. 90% of the people you meet will be friendly and polite, and will help you.

Of course, there’s always the 10% of some really messed up people, but I’ve found that everyone I’ve met in Kenya is nicer and more welcoming than any other country I’ve traveled too. Their kindness has really made my trip, and I am so thankful to all of them for accommodating me during my stay here.

3. If you really love elephants, nothing will compare to the first time you drive into a family unit.

I really don’t want to ruin this moment for anybody, so I’ll just say it is an amazing experience.

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4. Camp life

The loo is nicer than I’m sure you’ve imagined, showering out of a bucket is actually very nice, and the food is delicious. Just make sure to cover up or wear bug spray at night, and always carry your torch with you. There’s nothing stopping elephants and lions from wandering through the camp at night. It’s really cool to wake up and see elephant foot prints right past the office, but you don’t want to bump into one when you’re stumbling to the loo half awake at 2am.

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4. a) Vervet monkeys

As a major part of camp life, they get their own special number. You will think that they are merely living simian teddy bears, with their cute little faces and little monkey hands. You will want to be nice to them and give them food and want them to be your friend. THIS IS AN ERROR. Evolution has tricked us by making the most obnoxious, devious animals appear adorable. If you leave your tent open even a centimeter, they will manage to break in while you’re sleeping, and you’ll wake up with a monkey on your feet rifling through your carry-on bag. They’ll steal the food you toss to the hornbills and squirrels, and if you’re female, you will not scare them at all. Don’t be fooled by their cute appearance.

Pure evil

Pure evil

6. Zip your tent.

Mosquitoes, snakes, spiders scorpions and the aforementioned vervet monkeys do not make good bedmates.

7. Try to learn as much Swahili as you can before you show up.

Here’s some important words:

Jambo- hello

Maji- water

Tafadhali- please

Asante sana- Thank you very much

Chai- tea

Ndovu- elephant

Simba- lion (Yes, the main character in the LionKing,who was a lion, was simply named “Lion”. I’m sure naming him was a real stretch, Disney)

Nyoka- snake

Nge- scorpion

Nzuri- good

Mbaya- bad

8.  You will have bad days.

You will miss home, you will miss hearing your native language, and you will miss your family. Naturally, every day won’t be the best, but you can counteract bad days by realizing that you are sitting in Kenya, and you just spent all day looking at live, wild, elephants. Better than sitting at home, watching TV all day by far.

9. Be smart and you’ll be safe.

Just because I have a somewhat paranoid level of care for my own safety, I feel like I have to add this in here. Yes, there is some risk in living in the middle of a national reserve for a month. But if you’re smart about it, you’ll (most likely) be safe. Take your anti-malarials and use bug spray, and you will cut down your chances of getting malaria exponentially. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t poke large animals. Don’t pick up snakes. Stay hydrated. Follow your common sense, and you’ll be safe.

kathleen8

10. Last of all, this will be a life changing experience

Interning at STE is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned so much about not only elephants, but also the Samburu culture, the Kenyan Zeitgeist, the terrible program called Excel, and about myself. This internship has allowed me to reflect critically on what I plan to do in the future. It has been an amazing journey, and I don’t regret a single day. I applied to this internship figuring that I wouldn’t get it, but decided to risk it anyway. If you’re unsure about applying, just do it. If you don’t get it, it’s not the end of the world. But the chances are you will, and you will not regret the opportunity (this advice also can be applied to applying to graduate schools, jobs and basically a whole lot in life. It’s pretty good advice, if I may say so myself.)

kathleen9

I hope that this guide has been a bit helpful, and that you have a wonderful time during your internship. I know I will never forget my internship, and I know I am so lucky to have been allowed this opportunity. Thank you to everyone at STE!

Back in the city after two months of bushwork

May 10, 2010
Edwin Pos & Jos Sleegers
Students from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands

It is finally over now, after two months of working, living and laughing in the bush we have arrived back in Nairobi at the STE Head-office. We can’t help but feeling that we have left a place which we were fortunate enough to call our home, with our own tent, our own routines and a lot of new friends. Driving through the reserve for the last time and passing the gate knowing that we won’t return the same day gives us a sense of loss. But we shouldn’t dwell on these thoughts as it was a great experience and one that will remain with us for a long time.

Jos & Edwin in Iain's plane

Jos & Edwin in Iain's plane

As for the research, we have been able to do what we came to do, even though there was a minor setback as a result of the flood. To give a short summary, the first part was making a transect across the East-West gradient of the Samburu National Reserve,  resulting in a total of 19 plots along the Ewaso Ng’iro river (which is the lower boundary of the reserve) and yielding some very interesting results. The second part concerned an Elephant Focal study on the foraging behaviour of elephants, for this we have spend a lot of time close to the elephants, looking and observing what they are eating. It is an amazing feeling seeing these magnificent creatures walking past you only one meter distance away, fully aware of you, yet undisturbed. Spending so much time in the bush has also given us the oppertunity to see a lot of different animals, from zebra’s, kudu’s, cheeta’s and hyena’s to wild dogs right at the research camp.

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In addition, we have made some great new friends here in Kenya and it was great spending time with them. They have helped us so much with the research and showed us so much about living here. They really made us feel right at home and being a part of it all, as a thank you we gave a fare-well party on our last evening with beers, soda’s and naturally a goat, because here in Kenya you can’t have a party without a goat! To keep it short, it has been a great experience and we want to thank everybody who has made this possible, hopefully we can come back some time!

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***Edwin & Pos have since left but we thought you would be interested in reading the last of their blogs…

Only one more week left!

April 30, 2010
Edwin Pos & Jos Sleegers
Students from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands

After finishing our transect we are now fully occupied by our focal study on the diet of elephants. This means following around a family each morning and each afternoon for about three hours and recording what they are eating. This way we are really getting close to the families and are beginning to recognize the individuals, which is a great experience. To be able to drive around in the reserve and saying hello to them by using their name, fantastic! We are still amazed by how close elephants will come to you if you just keep quiet and let them be, those are experiences we won’t soon forget.

Samburu Elephant

Samburu Elephant

Besides the elephants, we recently came across two leopards as well, just near the STE camp. There were two males crossing the area just along the road. A great oppertunity to take some nice pictures and we have now seen practically every mammal that is supposed to be around here! At the STE camp there is also always something to be done or seen. Just the other day, a big bull called Kenyata, who was in musth, was right at the research camp so we had to be carefull and there are also the occasional Black Mamba’s or deadly spiders, which are all part of the great adventure. We can’t imagine that we have already been here for about 2 months and that we only have a couple of days left, next week we will be off to Nairobi again and off home to the Netherlands. But before we go we are throwing a nice fare-well party for all the guys here who have helped us a great deal and made this experience even better than it would have been. Thanks a lot guys!

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Iain Douglas-Hamilton Named Finalist for the 2010 Indianapolis Prize

Two exciting events that have happened to STE in the last few months are reported below: Click on the links provided for more information.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton Named Finalist for the 2010 Indianapolis Prize

indyprize

read more

The Secret Life of Elephants Premieres in America

Secret Life of Elephants

Secret Life of Elephants

read more

Thank you! Emergency flood relief fundraising target achieved

Nairobi, 11 July 2010

We extend our sincere thanks to everyone who contributed so generously to the rebuilding of our research facility, destroyed by flooding on March 4th, 2010. Due to the tremendous and overwhelming support of our friends and donors especially in the US and in UK, we have now exceeded our initial target of £100,000.  In total we have raised £118,000 in direct and online donations. We are most grateful for the support of Kenyan and international media, who publicized our plight and helped raise international awareness.

Samburu floods

Samburu floods

We are pleased to report that much progress has already been made in the rebuilding effort with the funds raised. The flood was a major blow to STE operations, and the relief and rebuilding efforts required great financial resources and staff time. We have been busy picking up the pieces of our camp and planning for the future.

Currently, all staff are housed in camping tents provided by the British army immediately after the flooding. Permanent living quarters are being constructed which will make life at the camp more comfortable then before. The new structures will be eco friendly, as well as flood proof, relocated to higher ground to ensure greater security and minimal human foot print on the environment. We expect to have them up in the next three months.

Temporary tents

Temporary tents

Access to food and drinking water was greatly disrupted by the flooding, which destroyed our well, refrigeration facilities, and bridge used for transportation of supplies. Our well is now functioning again, thanks to the generosity of near by Chinese road construction crews who provided us with building material. Our fridge has also been emptied of mud and reinstated, allowing us to enjoy fresh nutritious meals once again.

We are in the process of replacing of essential field equipment including digital cameras for recording elephant ids, high-speed computers, and elephant radio tracking collars. The new equipment will enable us to enhance our operations and monitor greater elephant numbers. We are also restocking our library, as our valuable collection of books and field guides was washed away.

Researchers' notebooks, diaries, etc

Researchers' notebooks, diaries, etc

Now we intend to resume our important scientific and community work at pre-flood levels, work which for many years has helped the world understand and conserve elephant populations. Our scientists in Samburu are once again in the field, busy monitoring the movements of elephant families returning to the area. For this, we still need ongoing support.

With your support, we look forward to an exciting 2010 at the STE camp. We warmly invite you to visit us and see our progress!

Yours truly,

Iain Douglas-Hamilton & The STE Team!

Click here to view more photos taken during the flood

Progress at STE camp after the flood

March 22, 2010
Edwin Pos & Jos Sleegers
Students from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands

Jos

Jos

Edwin

Edwin

We have been here for about two weeks now and it seems to become second nature to us, last week we went a day out to Isiolo with some of the guys from Save the Elephants to have a good day off. It was a nice trip and we had roasted goat and some beers for lunch and looked around in the “big city of Isiolo”. We also did some shopping for the research camp (drinking water, vegetables, tomato sauce etc.) and bought some news papers for the staff. We still need to take the bridge at archer’s post, because the bridge close to our camp is still not fixed. So the trip took us about one and a half hours. We found out that a projector survived the floods and made our own Sunday Cinema here at the research camp and watched a movie or two with everyone (unfortunately, the projecter gave out just a couple of days ago).

The recovery of the camp is still in progress and men are working hard. Some are still digging the well with large concrete pipes, sand and stones still coming out.

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The well will be an important source of water to keep the whole camp running. Others are building new proper toilets. They have built a small house with two rooms and they are now filling the walls with sand and cement. Furthermore new structures are being built where large tents can be hung up in as we are now all still sleeping in pitch tents, this will be a nice change. The river is flowing slowly now. Although it rains once every 2 or 3 days, it seems that the river is not a major threat, at least not at the moment.

Now that we can’t help much more rebuilding the camp we started with our own research. We are getting along quite well, from the rubbish material around we built a small stove to dry plants and made a start building a herbarium for the STE. We’ve already found quite some species along the riverbanks which have survived the floods or are emerging now from the big pile of sand that has washed up the shores.

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We also had the pleasure of seeing many elephant families who now have returned to Samburu and experienced some fantastic moments with them! These guys will give us some interesting data in the upcoming weeks and surrounded by a very helpful staff we are ready and thrilled to start working with them!

Baby elephants enjoying a mud bath in Samburu

Baby elephants enjoying a mud bath in Samburu