Last Thursday 8th October, I was fortunate enough to secure a ticket to listen to an exclusive talk by guest speaker Saba Douglas-Hamilton, at the Royal Geographical Society for Real Africa‘s 15th Anniversary event.
Beautifully presented, ‘My Wild Life’ gave a glimpse into Saba’s childhood, her love of Africa, her filming career and her conservation efforts.
She started her talk speaking about her rather unconventional childhood, growing up in the African bush in Kenya, being surrounded by incredible wildlife, notably elephants. Her father is zoologist Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton CBE, a household name for most wildlife and/or African enthusiasts. Iain is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the African elephant, conducting the first behavioural studies of elephants at the age of 23. He is also the founder of the charity Save the Elephants, where Saba is Head of Special Projects. (Mongabay News published an insightful and very interesting interview with Iain a couple of years ago, which you can find by clicking here.)
I digress, back to Saba’s speech! Saba spoke about the first time she met an elephant when she was just a baby. At just 6 weeks old, Saba’s mother introduced her to a female elephant her father was observing for his research, called ‘Virgo’. The elephant sniffed her, ‘sussing’ her out, which Saba referred to as being baptised in elephant breath! After the elephant had her curiosity indulged by sniffing baby Saba, she then proceeded to coax her own calf forward as if to introduce it to Saba and her mother. Such a wonderful moment highlighting the emotional intelligence of these magnificent creatures.
Her childhood segment consisted of her experience of growing up around and living with elephants, splashing about in watering holes metres away from families of elephants. She also talked about her father’s work, including a funny anecdote around his discovery of elephant’s matriarchal family structure.
Her filming career started with the BBC. She was recruited due to her knowledge and love of the bush and wildlife. Her first filming project was on a programme called Going Ape, a documentary to test if Saba and her co-host could survive in the African jungle with only Chimpanzees as their ‘guides’.
She then went on to talk about several experiences throughout her filming career including a nerve-wracking encounter with a rhino at night, with only a log for protection(!); as well as the hugely popular Big Cat Diary. If you have access to the BBC, you would have probably watched or at the least heard of this documentary series. Saba presented the series from 2002 to 2006 and spoke about the breathtaking prides she had the fortune to encounter and follow for months, including many hilarious stories about the lion families and her filming experiences. She also recounted with wonder, one of her final moments filming the series when the leader of the pride roared around the land rover, almost initiating her into the family.
Her last segment was of course all about elephants and their conservation. She spoke about the importance of elephants in the savannah ecosystem, why they need to be protected and also the unique intelligence and emotional integrity of each individual and the critical role they play in the family unit. She highlighted the facts and figures surrounding poaching and decreasing numbers of elephants over the years – sickeningly shocking statistics.
On a different note she talked all about the gorgeous Elephant Watch Camp, the luxury safari lodge run by her and her family in Samburu, Kenya and the important part it plays in raising awareness about the beauty of elephants and why they should be protected.
Her final thoughts were revolved around her family; husband Frank Pope, 3 children and the nomadic Samburu tribe who are heavily involved with Elephant Watch Camp and protecting elephants in their enchanting lands. She particularly focussed on what lies ahead in the future, using her daughters as examples that we should see the younger generation as an example of how we treat nature, saying “the natural empathy of children for animals will change the world”.
She concluded encouraging us to continue supporting the causes that sustain nature and protect wildlife by “listening to the call of the wild in your heart”.
Afterwards we headed downstairs for a short reception, filled with Save the Elephant merchandise alongside beautiful photos and banners of elephants! I also had the opportunity to very briefly speak with Saba herself and she is one of the most down-to-earth and warm people I have ever spoken to – an absolute delight.
If you’d like to find out more about the evening and the organisation behind it please click here.
In addition, Aardvark Safaris conducted a lovely Q&A with Saba whilst her programme, This Wild Life, was on TV. You can find the interview here to find out more about her and her work: http://blog.aardvarksafaris.co.uk/this-wild-life-qa-with-saba-douglas-hamilton/