The time last July, in Northern Kenya’s Samburu Reserve, when a bull elephant speared through a Land Cruiser’s radiator, was not a common occurrence. On the contrary – and with the exception of mature bulls – elephants live in stable, peaceable family units, led by matriarchs who learned from their mothers where to go, and how to find food and water through the seasons. The elder elephants also introduce their young to the wider elephant herd of families that are often unrelated to theirs, whom young elephants will often remember for their whole lives, even if they only met once, at the age of 2.
I can’t remember anything from age 2. That incredible memory is just one example of elephant qualities to admire. Another is the incredible family bonds that they form. Just recently, the international organization Save the Elephants found the carcass of a mother elephant, poached for her tusks. Her two young calves were standing by the de-tusked body, unwilling to leave, unwilling to accept their mother’s death. One calf was four years old, old enough to rejoin the herd and survive into adulthood; the other calf was only one and a half. Save the Elephants staff, realizing that the little calf needed support and would not survive without mother’s milk, brought her to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, where she is growing, safe, and will hopefully be able to rejoin the herd in a few years.
Save the Elephants discovered the poached mother from the sky. The organization flies over Northern Kenya often in their Cessna plane, checking on elephant movements and behaviors, counting elephant populations, and scanning for poachers.
“We are one of a number of NGOs, working together in this remote community, that is helping to turn former poachers into powerful advocates for wildlife survival,” says Frank Pope, Chief Operations Officer with Save the Elephants, “And some of former poachers have told us that planes patrolling the skies were always a big deterrent — whenever they saw them, they’d go home and not risk poaching.”
Through their pioneering work of radio-tracking elephants, Save the Elephants monitors elephant populations in Kenya and in six other African nations. A heavily-secured tracking app helps air patrols and ground teams position themselves more effectively to protect vulnerable populations, helping to end poaching in the long term. The valuable data from tracked elephants also serves to mark out important corridors and hotspots, informing the protection of vital habitat for wild elephant populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from the savannas of the Serengeti to the forests of the Virunga.
To preserve elephant populations in the long-term, Save the Elephants needs another plane. With constant need for aerial surveys, checks on collared elephants and response to emergency alerts, they’re spread too thin with just one. That’s why, this December, glassybaby is launching our “tembo” collection of elephant-etched votives, and donating 10% of all tembo sales to Save the Elephants. with your help, little elephants made in glass will help buy a new plane to support enormous elephants in the wild.
How else can you help Save the Elephants? Make a trip to the Elephant Watch Camp in Kenya, which supports the organization and offers luxury excursions where guides can acquaint you with elephants by name. “July is when the big bulls go into musth and mate with females,” says Frank. Because gestation for elephant calves is 22 months, calves conceived in July will be born in May, when grass grows tall and green on the savannah. “That’s probably the best time to visit,” Frank says. “Come on over in May, when the bulls are still calm, and the newborn calves nurse under their mothers’ big gray bellies.” With your help, Save the Elephants should have another plane by then, patrolling the skies and securing the future of the next generation of the elephants of Samburu.