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Report: Real Africa’s 15th Anniversary talk with Saba Douglas-Hamilton

Well, to quote Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, ‘O, what a night‘. At the start of the year we booked the Royal Geographical Society’s Map Room for October 8th, so we could do something special to celebrate our 15th Anniversary. We wanted to work with a charity, one that was at the forefront in the desperate fight for the survival of elephants.

We were delighted when Save the Elephants agreed to be our partner, and more so when Saba Douglas-Hamilton offered to be our guest speaker on the night. Our proposed 120 capacity in the Map Room changed to 700 in the lecture theatre.

We contacted our old clients as a priority, offering them first call on the seats, then contacted the databases of Real Africa and Save the Elephants. The tickets sold out in 3 days.  We had a waiting list of over 300 and up to 20 phone calls a day asking for tickets despite the sold-out signs.

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at the RGS at 4pm to set up with our partners on the night Kenya Airways. At 5pm Saba and the Save the Elephants team arrived, so while Saba and I chatted with the technician who was to run the audio visuals, the rest of the teams got the place ready.

With 700 people to seat we’d drafted in ten 6th form Geography students from our local school in Norwich, giving them tickets and train fares to experience the night in exchange for their assistance with seating everybody. They were helped by the children of our staff and friends, ranging in age from 11-16 and overseen by one of our charity trustees. They were all magnificent.

By 7.10pm we were ready. Saba and I walked into the theatre and I climbed to the podium to introduce her. It was a very proud moment. To be standing on the stage of the RGS Ondaatje Theatre, speaking where so many extraordinary explorers, climbers and conservation legends had been before was humbling. To be representing my staff was an honour.

Saba’s talk was superb.  Fluent, funny, informative, sobering, inspiring. She spoke for over an hour and at the end received a huge ovation. I presented her with a hand-made silver elephant pendant as a token of our thanks.

We adjourned to the Map Room where our guests could meet her, get signed postcards or a photo, buy t-shirts or a silver elephant and make donations. The room was packed, the atmosphere great.

By the end of the night we had raised nearly £10,000 for Save the Elephants, given them huge profile via the journalists who attended at the invitation of the Kenyan Tourist Board and I’m sure encouraged lots of people to travel to Elephant Watch Camp, Samburu, Kenya to see the work of Save The Elephants first-hand.

Thanks to everyone who came, to Sara and the staff for all their hard-work in organising it and of course to Saba for making it a night to remember.

Now, what should we do for our 16th…?

Its not too late to support Save the Elephants:

To make a donation and get a signed Saba postcard, click here.

For information on our handcrafted silver elephants, all profits to Save the Elephants, Click here

For information about our Elephant Conservation Safaris which include a donation to Save The Elephants by Real Africa on behalf of every client, click here.

To request a Real Africa brochure, which includes Elephant Watch Camp and details of our partnership with Save The Elephants please click here.

Saving elephants

With the upcoming talk at the RGS, given by wildlife film-maker and elephant expert Saba Douglas-Hamilton, in mind, one of our directors Robert talks about some of his elephant encounters over the years.

I love elephants. Whenever I’m in Africa checking camps and visiting suppliers I always make time to game-drive and a priority is to see some eles. To me it is Africa. If I’m in Amboseli it’s one of the most iconic images of the continent, elephants standing before a snow-capped Kilimanjaro. If I’m Tarangire, I love sitting watching a large herd slowly wend their way through the Park.

Its watching them interact that makes them so special. In the Mara last year with George, one of our most experienced and popular guides, we spent a very amusing 20 minutes watching a young baby, only a few weeks old, pester its mother for a drink of milk. She was having none of it but was finding it very hard to stop her offspring who was small enough to walk under her and between her legs. Eventually she gave in and he got his drink.

Over the years I’ve also been charged several times by elephants. Happily the oldest of these aggressors was probably about a year old and had they hit the vehicle they would have bounced off. Heads shaking and nodding, trunks waving, they’ve left the safety of mum and head at high speed towards us. After a few metres they usually stop, give us a good stare to check if there’s been any reaction. When they see none, they glance over their shoulders, realise mum is now quite a way away and beat a rapid retreat. All good practise for their adult years.

Sometimes you get lucky, although the better the guide the luckier you tend to get. You’re parked up, quietly watching a family herd and they slowly envelop the vehicle as they graze closer. It’s extraordinary to be so close that you can see the texture of their skin, almost count the bristles on their bodies and hear them gentle talk to each other through quiet rumbles. Watching them grasp grass with their trunks, sometimes using their toes nails as a scythe to cut through the tougher stems.

I was once with my family at Shamwari, a lovely private reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We were surrounded by a family and a young female stopped by our vehicle. You could see her looking at us and her gaze settling on my 7 year old daughter. Very slowly she raised and extended her trunk until it was only a few centimetres from her face. It gave a gentle sniff, moving gently up and down her body. It repeated this several times before moving on. My daughter, 10 years later, still talks about this, commenting that at no point was she scared or worried, just that she’d wanted to shake its trunk as a greeting.

The most interesting thing I’ve seen elephants do was also one of the most puzzling. Having got out of a marsh in Amboseli, an elephant spent several minutes getting a stick carefully positioned. It then stood on one end and used a pointed bit on the other end to clean mud from under its toenails.

Everybody loves elephants. Tragically this hasn’t stopped the greatest crisis that they have ever faced developing. Poaching for ivory is at the greatest level it has ever been, driven by the demand for ivory in Asia. Tanzania recently reported that it had lost over 40% of its elephant population between 2010 and 2013 and this is a country with designated National Parks, rangers and a strong conservation presence. In countries like the Congo it doesn’t bear thinking about what has happened to the elephant population where there is little anti-poaching infrastructure. Near annihilation is a realistic and sobering assessment.

That is why Real Africa has chosen the ‘Save the elephants’ charity as its partner charity for its 15th anniversary year. The work they do, increasing our understanding of elephants, is crucial if they are to survive. This research, mostly done in Samburu National Park in Kenya, is applicable to help the elephant population across the continent.

The talk by Saba on the 8th October at the Royal Geographical Society will raise funds with the proceeds of the ticket sales all going to the charity. We will also be promoting ‘Save the elephants’ at all the consumer shows we display at throughout the autumn and spring, raising awareness and funds. We are delighted to be working with such a dedicated and passionate group of people. Hopefully it will go a small way to ensuring that when my daughter takes her children out on safari in years to come, they too will have the chance to be sniffed by an elephant.