Tag Archives: elephants

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.

Kithaka comes of age

Kithaka, the spirited elephant orphan, who the Real Africa Trust adopted back in 2013,  has now moved to Tsavo East for the next phase of his rehabilitation back to the wilds of Africa.

I first met Kithaka 2 years ago. The staff at the nursery warned me, “He’s very mischievous, ” and described him as a “handful” but I was smitten from the outset.

Kithaka was plucked from the Imenti Forest in November 2011 by the dedicated Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant rescue team after being found wandering alone and bewildered without his herd. With no happy reunion on the cards, due to the dense forest habitat, tiny Kithaka, just a week old, was transported to the nursery unit where he has been lovingly cared for ever since.

Kithaka is now a thriving 4 1/2 years old – he’s grown tusks, an even bigger and bolder attitude and remains firm friends with fellow elephant orphans, Lemoyian and Barsilinga, who have been at the nursery for a similar time wuth him.

At the end of May, the ‘three musketeers’ made a big journey – from the nursery in Nairobi to the Ithumba Unit in Kenya‘s Tsavo East where head keeper Benjamin was waiting for them. The Ithumba unit has three categories – dependant orphans who are still given around the clock care, partially dependent orphans, who still return regularly to the stockades and sometimes require supplementary milk and finally the ex-orphans who roam free in Tsavo East.

The ex-orphans may be entirely independent, but still remain extremely attached to their human family and visit regularly. This allows the team to keep an eye on them, ensuring they are healthy and safe. It also means that the orphans arriving from the nursery unit can enjoy interaction with their wild friends and their young, who have been born wild.

I thought you might like to watch this lovely short film about the re-location of Kithaka, Barsilinga and Lemoyian.


By Sara White










Meet Arruba

The Real Africa Trust continues to donate money directly to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a pioneering conservation organisation working to protect wildlife and habitats across East Africa.  

The DSWT runs the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programme in the world. The nursery unit, pictured above, is based in Nairobi National Park, Kenya and it was here that I first met Kithaka, the elephant Real Africa adopted back in November 2013. Kithaka continues to thrive and will soon be moving from the Nairobi National Park nursery unit to Ithumba, ready to be rehabilitated back to the wild. When we first met Kithaka he was so small and vulnerable that it is hard to believe he is about to move to the Ithumba unit, as a strong young bull elephant, and this is all testament to the work of the Sheldrick Trust. We eagerly await his progress. In the knowledge that Kithaka is about to move on to the next stage, we felt the time was right to adopt another elephant – a calf just starting their journey in the nursery unit. So, in the New Year we adopted Arruba.You can read Arruba’s story below.

In recent months, with poaching escalating once again in East Africa, the Sheldrick Trust has been called on to rescue many tiny distressed elephants. Without their help, these calves would have perished. We recently heard of a tiny newborn calf, Ndotto, who was rescued at just 2 days old from the Ndoto Mountains in Kenya’s far north. Ndotto was found very confused in a throng of sheep and goats.  Ndotto is now being looked after in the nursery. You can see three pictures of the rescue mission to the left. Even on New Year’s day the team were in action attempting to help an emaciated calf found trapped in a gulley in Laikipia – sadly help came too late and on this occasion, the calf did not survive for more than a few days. However the Sheldrick Trust successfully rescued three babies in January.  A tiny calf was rescued from the Sera Conservancy, Northern Kenya on January 3rd. Hamsini struggled with a terrible septic wound on his back caused from a torrid time while being trapped in a well. He also suffered terrible bruising from the fall, and a lung infection. It has been a tricky month for Hamsini but we are hopeful with the right care that he will start to put on weight and his condition improve ; another calf of around 15 months, name Boromoko (pictured bottom right) was rescued from the plains of the Masai Mara on January 5th and has settled in the nursery well, being exceedingly loving; and then, on the 26th, yet another orphan was rescued close to Narok, a heavily populated area.  Her name is Siangiki which means young girl in Masai.  She came in a collapsed state but thankfully the Trust has managed to retrieve her from the brink and she is now safely out with the others and beautifully settled. Often it is not clear how the calves came to be separated from their mothers.

 Arruba’s story

On Tuesday 28th May 2013 a young female elephant calf was sighted by the Kenyan Wildlife Service maintenance team who were erecting a new electric fence in the Aruba Dam area of Tsavo East National Park. The elephant calf was reported to be desperate, and quite evidently alone. Due to the new fence, the baby was trapped and confused.

The period the calf had been trapped within the fenced area was unknown, as is the fate of the calf’s mother and the rest of its herd. It is suspected that the calf and it’s mother might have strayed into the new fenced area and the mother somehow lost the calf on exiting the enclosure and was unable to find her way back in to retrieve her baby. Another possibility is that the calf is an ivory-orphan, as eight elephants were brutally poached in nearby Ndara.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Voi Stockades in Tsavo East were alerted. The head Keeper of the Voi Stockades contacted the DSWT Nairobi HQ that afternoon to make the arrangements for a rescue plane from Nairobi to come the following morning, as darkness was already setting in.

So the new calf, who was estimated to be approximately 8 months old, put up a huge fight when the Voi Keepers arrived at the scene, with Arruba escaping their attempts at rescuing her and reacting extremely aggressively to their presence. Yet the Keepers eventually succeeded in capturing her and loaded her into the waiting vehicle to be transported back to the Voi Stockades.
On arrival at the Voi Stockades, the calf began to settle down and thankfully drank, having arrived in a very dehydrated state. There had been no access to water within the fenced area where she was found. Apart from a few bruises and minor abrasions the calf was in good condition.

The presence of the other orphans at the Voi Stockades was a huge comfort to the new arrival who desperately needed love and reassurance. Shimba, who is recovering remarkably from lion attack injuries, was a great help in getting the calf settled down, stretching his trunk through the stockade fence to offer affection and encouragement and reassurance.

In Nairobi on the morning of the 29th, the Nairobi team and plane were ready to depart on their mission having been briefed the previous evening. Three of the Nairobi Keepers set off to Nairobi’s domestic airport at 9am to catch the rescue plane to Voi in Tsavo East where the Voi Keepers were preparing the calf for her plane journey to Kenya’s capital city.

After a smooth flight with clear views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulu Hills and the great expanse of Tsavo, the plane landed on Voi’s airstrip, which is located only a few kilometres from the Voi Stockades. On arrival at the stockades it was obvious that the orphan was going to be a handful to re-capture as she was still wild and fearful. Those who were still present to keep a careful eye on the new baby included some of Voi’s big ex-orphans including Emily, Lolokwe and Icholta.

The entire stockade’s workforce and the Nairobi Keepers were all needed to help to get the new arrival restrained and on the ground in order to brace her legs and keep her safe and secure during the flight. With all hands on deck the calf showed huge amounts of strength in managing to evade being taken down, yet after a few minutes she succumbed to the keepers, whilst ex-orphan Emily bellowed and stomped around the stockades concerned about what was happening to her.
The calf was quite a weight and again all hands were needed to lift her into the waiting vehicle and to get her to the airstrip. The transfer went smoothly and within half an hour the calf was being lifted into the plane, strapped securely inside with an IV drip administered to ensure she stayed hydrated during the flight, and a mild sedation to keep her calm.

Saying farewell to all of the Voi staff the Nairobi Keepers climbed into the plane alongside the calf, keeping her reassured and making sure she was as comfortable as possible during the journey. The orphan gave into exhaustion during the flight and fell into a peaceful sleep, awoken when the plane arrived back in Nairobi.

A DSWT vehicle was waiting at the airstrip and the calf was soon on her way to the DSWT Nairobi Nursery in Nairobi National Park. At 2.30pm she had finally reached her final destination and was carried into her stockade. After untying her, the Nairobi Keepers carefully lifted off the blanket covering her face, which was keeping her quiet and calm, and helped her up. Unsteady on her feet she stood, rather dazed, in the shade of her stockade eyeing the humans surrounding her warily yet being too tired to fight them off, she seemed to know she was in a safe place with caring people to look after her.
This calf was lucky to have been found alive and well as the area in which she was sighted is a favourite place for the infamous Tsavo lions.

It took Arruba a good few days to calm down and feed on milk, and once she trusted the Keepers enough to follow them she was let out of the confines of her stockade to join the Nursery orphans. By this time she knew them as they had been brought to her stockade for every feed time in an effort to coax her into drinking the milk formula that she seemed so reluctant to take.

Once out with the others elephant communication worked its magic yet again, and it was as if she knew the ropes from the outset – even venturing to the public viewing between 11 -12 with the others, seemingly unperturbed, a far cry from the frightened calf that only a week before was brought to the safety of the Voi stockades.

You can find out more about the DSWT here.

Many clients travelling with Real Africa to Kenya elect to stopover in Karen, a leafy suburb of Nairobi, for a night to enable them to visit the DSWT nursery unit in person. If this is of interest then please do let us know. There are two viewings, a public 1 hour viewing at lunchtime daily, and a private visit daily at 5pm, for those wishing to adopt an elephant.


By Sara White


Kithaka-the-elephant update

It hardly seems possible that it is nearly a year since I first met Kithaka at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust nursery unit in Nairobi National Park. Although showing signs of being a mischievous young bull elephant from the start, he was still very small and vulnerable and coming to terms with the loss of his elephant family.

It has been heart-warming to see him form bonds with his keepers and the other elephants this past year and to witness the extraordinary care and commitment of all the staff at the DSWT.

Kithaka is certainly far bigger and more boisterous today and a bit of a handful by all accounts. He increasingly enjoys his independence, typical of a young bull elephant, and wanders off into the bush to explore. He has now been moved from his stable to the stockade with newcomer, baby Kauro, moving into his place.

The stockade houses a number of ‘big’ elephants as they move on from the dependent infant stage. The keepers’ sleep nearby rather than in with them as in the stable. Then from the age of around two to three years, elephant orphans who are physically and psychologically stable will transfer to the Ithumba or Voi units in Tsavo East National Park to continue the rehabilitation process back to the wild. We are looking forward to hearing about Kithaka’s progress in the coming months.

During 2014 the DSWT has received 23 elephant orphans.

Kithaka in 2014

Kithaka still enjoys a good wrestle in the mud with his fellow orphans. He continues to be the naughty boy of the nursery, stealing milk, pushing small children during visiting time, surprising film crews by hiding in the bushes and then running out trumpeting, and most recently, harassing Maxwell the rhino. Here is an entry from the keepers’ diary:

“The orphans had a very amusing morning as once all the big elephants were let out of their stockades, Kithaka, Barsilinga and Lemoyian decided to pay Maxwell a visit. Maxwell was fast asleep lying along the gate to his stockade so he didn’t notice the three elephants approaching and very secretly feasting on his lucerne. The lucerne was a real treat to the elephants and their mission was to eat as much as they could get before Maxwell woke up. Once they had their fill, Kithaka and Lemoyian began pushing the gate and pulling sleeping Maxwell’s ears with their trunks. At first it seemed that Maxwell quite enjoyed all this attention as he was moving his head around to get the best angle to get a tickle from the two babies. However, it didn’t take long until Max was out of his sleepy mood and was quite annoyed with the three menaces. He head butted the gate making the three elephants run away trumpeting with happiness as they joined the herd in the forest for yet another beautiful day. “


By Sara White