Yesterday evening, I headed for Morecambe to see a lecture by conservationist and wildlife filmmaker Saba Douglas-Hamilton. Saba was a brilliant speaker, and the subject matter was both fascinating and worrying.
For the first half, Saba told much of her life story. She was born and raised in Africa, where her father was pioneering detailed behavioural research of elephants. In later years, as elephant poaching for ivory increased, the family played an active part in anti-poaching efforts. Saba eventually turned her knowledge of African wildlife to filmmaking: among other projects, she was one of the presenters of Big Cat Diary, and made a film called The Heart of a Lioness, about a young lioness who amazingly adopted an oryx calf. The lecture was accompanied by photographs, and a few video clips: among these were an elephant charging a jeep in defence of its tranquilised herdmate, and Saba getting caught between two tense rhinos while filming at night. Had I been in either situation, I would have needed to change my trousers afterwards.
While the first half did make references to conservation and the difficulties faced in preserving our threatened natural systems, the second half was even more sobering. Saba explained how elephant poaching is once again at very high levels, due to ivory demand from (primarily) China: it is believed that 200,000 elephants have been killed in the last six years, and the African population is around 500,000 animals. Not only that, but the increasing human population is increasingly bringing elephants and people into conflict, over crops and limited space.
Given that elephants play such a vital role in their ecosystem, and preserving them will indirectly help to preserve other species, they are definitely worth saving. Saba is a trustee of the charity Save the Elephants, and helps run a safari camp in Samburu – Elephant Watch Camp – which promotes conservation tourism, allowing tourists to see animals while being as eco-friendly as possible.
But of course, it’s not just elephants – natural systems worldwide are in danger, as human development and population expansion continue. Saba told the audience that we can all apply our skills to the issue in some way, and do something to aid the preservation of nature: eating less meat, or educating others, or making our own spaces more wildlife-friendly. It’s an issue that affects everybody, and everybody needs to be aware of it and view it from a helpful perspective. It’s unfortunate that the media does not place more focus on these subjects, and that celebrity gossip is more likely to make headlines than the fact that piles of ivory are currently being burned in Kenya, to demonstrate the belief that elephants are worth more alive.
From the perspective of a nature lover, Saba’s lecture was very inspiring, and has certainly encouraged me to continue expanding my knowledge of current conservation issues, and see what more I can do myself. Thank you to Saba Douglas-Hamilton for a really wonderful lecture!
(Note: This picture is from my own collection (taken in Kruger National Park), not the presentation – I just wanted to have an image of an elephant here!)