Surviving floods, droughts, and poachers' bullets to save elephants
For four decades Iain Douglas-Hamilton has been an advocate for elephants, the endangered giants of Africa.
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"He shows bravery ... [and his work is so important," says Laurie Marker, a finalist for the Indianapolis Prize who founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia. When CCF expanded into Kenya, it began working with Save the Elephants in Samburu National Reserve, in Kenya's Great Rift Valley.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures African elephants
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Douglas-Hamilton has given practical assistance to CCF, from making introductions to sharing researchers and resources, Dr. Marker says.
Despite the ivory poaching ban, the future of African elephants is far from secure. Douglas-Hamilton describes the conditions in the Congo, for example, as "catastrophic" – and not just for elephants.
In 2009, he worked to save a rare herd of desert elephants in Mali from the worst drought in more than a decade.
There have been other successes, particularly in East and Southern Africa, whose elephant populations have rebounded since the ivory ban. At this year's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in Doha, Qatar, conservationists, including Douglas-Hamilton, defeated an effort by the governments of Tanzania and Zambia to downgrade the status of their elephants so that they could sell off their stockpiles of ivory.
"If there's to be a future for elephants, there has to be an accommodation about how they're going to live in juxtaposition with people," says Douglas-Hamilton, who considers the rapid expansion of human populations one of the largest challenges facing all wildlife. "This is where science and research comes in. It has to be linked to community development."
Elephants "need space," he says, including protected corridors so that they can travel from one protected area to another. (Such corridors would also benefit other large mammals, such as zebras, wild dogs, lions, and giraffes.)
Douglas-Hamilton has proposed the idea of a mobile national park, where the protected land would follow elephants as they travel. No country has yet adopted it.
"I know we're dealing with poor people who have immediate needs," he says. "But we have to escape from the tyranny of poverty in order to have the luxury of long-term planning. If we don't, the poverty is not going to get any better and the environment is going to deteriorate."
He's also thrilled that young African-born conservationists now are joining the effort to save the continent's elephants.
Even after decades of research, Douglas-Hamilton still enjoys the company of these gentle giants, the largest of land mammals.
"I love to sit with them and be with them," he says. "I have the greatest joy just to be with elephants at peace."