Written by Jasper Montana, Researcher – Samburu, Kenya
Samburu, where we are filming for Planet Earth Live, is a haven for elephants. A silt-filled river runs west-east through the red sand and scrubby landscape, acting as the lifeblood that draws the elephants into the reserve to cool off in the heat of the day. At the moment in Samburu, it is a time of plenty. It is the rainy season and afternoon storms fuel sprouting grass and budding acacias – food fit for an elephant king.
We are working with a group called Save the Elephants, who have been researching the elephants in Samburu for 19 years. On our first day we set off with their head researcher, David Daballen, along one of the dusty tracks that weaves through the ‘toothbrush’ bushes along the river. We were going in search of our first close encounter with a herd of elephants. My previous experience of elephants is relatively limited, but I did know that shaking heads, thrashing vegetation and loud trumpeting calls were a warning sign that they weren’t happy, and it was time to move away.
We’d seen herds from the car on the way in but they were far off in the distance, so this was to be our first meeting with the Samburu elephants and I was excited to get close to them. We spotted a group in some thick bushes not too far away and drove the car off-road towards them. As we pulled up where we thought they were, we paused for a moment and heard nothing. Then all of a sudden, one of the elephants came crashing through the bushes towards us, shaking her head and calling out loudly. Another one crashed through another bush and soon we were amongst a herd of ten or more elephants trumpeting and crashing about in the bushes. Mothers, calves and young males jousting each other with their developing tusks, the thrashing bushes, the trumpeting calls and the shaking heads were all the signs that I’d previously been told to watch out for, but these elephants didn’t seem angry at all.
I asked David what was going on. ‘They’re happy,’ he replied. ‘They have everything they need – food, water and company’. And so they did. The trees were sprouting, the river was flowing and their family were all around them. This, so I have learnt, is why they love Samburu.
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