We were sorry to learn recently that the riverside research station of Iain Douglas-Hamilton, of Save the Elephants, in northern Kenya, was destroyed on the morning of March 4, 2010 by a flash flood, which resulted from a storm several miles upstream.
Save the Elephants is an organization, that, as its name indicates, works to research and protect the elephant population in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, and it was featured prominently in “Family Ties: The Elephants of Samburu,” a story in the September 2008 issue of National Geographic written by David Quammen. In the piece, Quammen describes the reserve and the elephants’ role within it:
The reserve is a relatively small area, just 65 square miles of semiarid savanna, rough highlands, dry washes (known locally as luggas), and riparian forests of acacia and doom palm along the north bank of the Ewaso Ngiro River. Lacking paved roads, sparsely surrounded by Samburu herders, it teems with wildlife. There are lions, leopards, and cheetahs, of course, but also Grevy’s zebras, reticulated giraffes, beisa oryx, gerenuks, Somali ostriches, kori bustards, and a high diversity of showy smaller birds such as wattled starlings, pin-tailed whydahs, and lilac-breasted rollers. But the dominant creatures are the elephants. They play a major role in shaping the ecosystem itself–stripping bark from trees or uprooting them, keeping the savanna open. They intimidate even the lions. They come and go across the boundaries of the reserve, using it as a safe haven from human-related dangers in a much larger and more ambivalent landscape.
Douglas-Hamilton reports that thankfully, no one was killed, thanks to hasty evacuation, and no animals were harmed in the flooding. But the waters wrecked their buildings and equipment, and in addition to the loss of all of their personal possessions and clothing, their staff lost their computers and cameras on which precious data was stored. The nearby tourist camp, run by Douglas-Hamilton’s wife Oria, Elephant Watch, and seven other lodges were also devastated.
Operations Manager Lucy King reports on the Save the Elephants website and blog that it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild the camp, and that “the mud and the sand that has deposited itself in our camp is extraordinary, it’s changed the look of our camp permanently and there are massive tree trunks lodged in the group that were swept in from upstream.” Right now, the staffers are living in a refugee camp nearby and are attempting to recover tents and rebuild above the flood-line. But they’re trying to focus on the positive: “Despite the huge work ahead of us, we are in good spirits and several kind donors have donated goats for us to eat some meat with our rice which is also helping morale!”
Readers who wish to help with the rebuilding effort can do so through the website SaveTheElephants.org.