Saba Douglas-Hamilton

Saba Douglas-Hamilton Sam Gracey
21 Dec
2015
Saba Douglas-Hamilton is a conservationist, film-maker, and presenter of wildlife television programmes. After growing up in the African bush, she joined her father’s conservation charity, Save the Elephants, and manages the family’s eco-lodge, Elephant Watch Camp, in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

I’ve had the great fortune of growing up among many different cultures. In Kenya alone there are 42 different tribes, and within each are all these different sub-groups. That’s something I’ve always been interested in, so I went to university and studied anthropology. I did try and segue off to be an anthropological consultant, but inevitably my heart always came back to conservation.

When I was younger, I actually found it too heart-breaking to deal with, because I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what prompted me to shift into film-making. I found film-making to be a way that I could do something positive, by telling stories. I think the role of the story-teller is incredibly important in improving our relationship with the environment. But now that I’ve had children, I’ve gone back into conservation with a vengeance!

Urban society has become too dislocated from nature. So what I try to do now is peel back the layers of meaning, get people to slough off their urban skins, and try to give their experience in nature the depth and substance it deserves so that people actually understand what it is that they’re hearing, seeing and losing. It’s simply lack of understanding. We only know what we’ve seen since our childhood, and the problem is that every generation inherits a more impoverished Earth, a weaker biosphere.

2012 was the worst year for poaching. In north Kenya, we have an incredible coalition of conservationists, all working together with the local government and Kenya Wildlife Service, putting huge amounts of time and effort into trying to reduce poaching, and they have got it down in the last two years. This year we’re back down to pre-crisis 2008 levels, but that’s just in north Kenya.

The Maasai Mara still has terrible poaching problems. Tanzania’s lost 67 per cent of its elephants, mostly in the last five years. Mozambique is the same. It’s just gone crazy. What we’ve done at Save the Elephants is start an Elephant Crisis Fund, which is accumulating donations and then getting 100 per cent of those funds out into the key areas with the most effective people who are making real change – stopping killing of elephants, stopping trafficking of ivory and stopping demand. It’s a very effective model and the wonderful thing is that it’s forcing everybody to work together. That’s what we need; to have a united voice.

Things are changing so fast now. We’re losing our wild areas, vernacular languages are being lost, traditions are being lost and knowledge is being lost that developed over millennia. I find that equally devastating because I think there’s so much that we can learn.

Responsible tourism is very important anyway, because it brings money to protected areas, and the parks and reserves cannot survive without it. But we’re trying to move away from ‘ecotourism’ – which is now a much-abused term – to ‘conservation tourism’. It’s a whole new level of engagement. It’s about becoming enamoured with elephants, engaging with the conservation movement, understanding how that movement fits into the bigger picture, and waking up to each individual person’s role in that.

Elephant Watch Camp is my mother’s creation. She built this beautiful eco-lodge, all made out of trees that had been pushed over by elephants or washed down the river. She employed entirely from the local community, the nomads literally left their livestock and were trained up from scratch to be room stewards, guides, carpenters and drivers. We consider ourselves to be highly luxurious, but we don’t have hair dryers, we don’t have air con, you don’t get digital TV. What we have instead is a very bohemian chic and total one-on-one immediate connection with the natural world. Elephants wander through camp, leopards come padding through at night, and the trees are full of monkeys.

There’s always been this assumption that the animals and the wilderness will always be there. But everything’s becoming increasingly threatened. The tourism industry has to change its way of doing things, there has to be a lot more giving back. Not just in the conservation aspect, but also in the community.

We’re all in great need of a wake up call, and really understanding what’s happening to our planet as the life support system that we rely on. We talk about it a lot, but I don’t think there’s a real deep understanding of the urgency of it, and how precarious it all is.

 

CV

1970 Born in Nairobi, Kenya

1993 Graduated from University of St Andrews with an MA in Social Anthropology; Joined Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia

1997 Joined Save the Elephants as Chief Operations Officer

2000 Became a wildlife TV presenter, going on to front shows such as the BBC’s Secret Life of Elephants and Big Cat Diary, and Animal Planet’s Heart of a Lioness and Rhino Nights

2014 Takes over as manager of Elephant Watch Camp, Kenya

2015 Presents BBC’s This Wild Life, documenting management of Elephant Watch Camp

Find out more about Save the Elephants – supported by Real Africa – at savetheelephants.org, and about Saba Douglas-Hamilton and Elephant Watch Camp at sabadouglashamilton.com

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

Target Ovarian Cancer

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

I’m a Geographer

Rodrigue Katembo risked his life to expose the corruption behind illegal…

Cultures

Of the approximately 7,000 languages thought to be alive, the…

Cultures

After years of debate, the German alphabet has got a…

I’m a Geographer

Kerstin Forsberg is the director of Planeta Océano, a marine…

Explorers

Conrad Humphreys was recently part of the team that re-created…

Cultures

Traditional crafts and cultural tourism are visible symbols of the…

Development

Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one…

Development

Almost two billion people around the world depend on imported…

Explorers

Hiking and exploring Zagori, northern Greece, reveals more than just…

Development

For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about…

Cultures

The conflict in Syria has focused attention on the ‘war…

Explorers

In 2015, Rod Rhys Jones, Chairman of the British Antarctic…

Refugees

Photojournalist Narciso Contreras exposes the reality of large-scale human trafficking…

Explorers

Ursula Martin never thought she would walk 3,700 miles around…

Development

Snake bites remain a major danger for people in developing…

Cultures

For many living in the Outer Hebrides, the Gaelic language…

Refugees

Meet the Greek islanders being trained by the RNLI, saving…

Explorers

For most, taking a 53-day, 11,000-mile road trip through 18…

Development

After nearly a year since being set alight, the raging…

I’m a Geographer

Liz Bonnin is a biochemist, wild animal biologist, and BBC…