A prominent conservationist, wildlife presenter and award-winning wildlife filmmaker, Saba Doughlas - Hamilton is also the co-director of her family's eco-tourism business - Elephant Watch Safaris.
Her life in Africa, and work as a wildlife filmmaker, has led her to some of the most remote parts of the planet where she has studied rare and endangered species in their natural habitats and experienced the frontline of conservation first hand. She is supported by her husband, Frank Pope, and together they are trying to further their vision in Kenya of saving the elephants.
We had the opportunity to talk to Saba and Frank about their work back in Kenya and how they are working to stop the killing of elephants. We were further enlightened and able to understand how we, here in Sri Lanka, could also work to protect our elephants. Although throughout her life Saba has done many documentaries and fought to protect different types of animals, her main focus has always been elephants. “I was born into a family that was all about Elephant Conservation, so I guess that's how the cookie crumbles” she quipped, adding that her goal is to enchant people about the beauty of the elephants and make them understand the importance of conservation.
Frank adds that conservation is fundamental to every aspect of human life simply because in the future it will be impossible to survive without nature. “Technology ,infrastructure and all other forms of development must be done keeping the importance of conservation in mind, because if we destroy nature we would have nothing left to live for,” he said. He added that a common problem they face when talking about this topic is that many people complain that they are barely surviving each day and are more worried about where their next meal is going to come from, than why and how they should preserve the environment. But what Frank points out is that without protecting nature there would be no survival at all.
They further stated how in countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, where Wildlife is a vital part of the economy, there are opportunities for people to earn their living through its protection. During an extended period of drought in Kenya, Saba and Frank expressed
how they were able to provide jobs to many, ensuring that these people had enough income to purchase their food. “Each person that we employed was at least supporting 10 others who were dependant on them, and by the time the drought ended many people came to our office and said that because of the employment we provided, we were able to save nearly a thousand people from starvation,” said Saba. “The point here,” said Frank “is that when all other options fail we can always turn to nature to take care of us, so instead of waiting for the other options to fail why not just make a conscious effort to preserve nature every day.”
Talking more specifically about the threats faced by elephants, they said that in Kenya the mismanagement of infrastructure development and over population of people who are continuously inhabiting the territories used by elephants are a main cause for the elephant human conflict existing there which leads to the death of many innocent elephants as well as humans.
“Africa’s human population is surging and pushing ever more into elephant rangelands. When farms are established where elephants are used to roaming they become a target for crop-raiding by hungry elephants. A year’s crop can be wiped out in a single night, creating understandable resentment. Both farmers and elephants can be wounded or killed in the conflict that ensues. Pressure from livestock grazing in elephant rangeland is also mounting, impacting the amount of food available for elephants and increasing the chances of herders being attacked by nervous elephants.”
They claimed that through their organisation they try to inform the government about the different paths that elephants take to travel and how those specific paths should and can be avoided when building settlements. They said that they were able to get a lot of international support in this regard but still it is a work in progress. Another major problem is the illegal ivory trade prevalent across Africa which results in the killing of many elephants to obtain their tusks. They even claimed that many terrorist groups and gangs kill elephants to obtain ivory to fund their organisations.
In such an environment Save the Elephants fight hard to preserve and protect these intelligent, amazing and beautiful creatures by constantly raising awareness and trying to influence the authorities to take firm steps against the cruelties that are being carried out against these animals. “We are trying to make an impact globally by bringing in many tourists to raise awareness about the conservation of the elephants while at the same time showing the authorities how valuable elephants are, not only to the environment but also to the economy,” said Frank.
Here in Sri Lanka we are facing a very similar crisis with many elephant deaths reported every year. . The best advice that Saba and Frank could give us was that in order to minimise these conflicts the people must be aware about the elephant movements. Instead of fragmenting the habitat of the elephants and driving them into smaller areas of land by building railways, roads and human settlements in the path in which elephants travel, the people should be mindful about these and do construction in a way that these habitats and routes are preserved.
Saba was in Sri Lanka to give the keynote presentation as the Wild Life and Nature Protection Society celebrated 125 years recentl