A topic larger than life

Sep 282010
Authors: Jennifer Sayler

Elephants are complex creatures with an extensive range of emotions. They value family connection and show compassion toward each other, according to a man who knows them well.

“If an elephant is sick, other elephants will come and keep it on its feet even if they are unrelated,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who is the president and CEO of Save the Elephants, during a Tuesday webcast presentation.

Douglas-Hamilton, who is one of the foremost authorities on all things elephant, said he witnessed the compassion through a special relationship he made with a female elephant named Virgo.

A pioneer in elephant research since the 1960s, Douglas-Hamilton was the driving force behind the banning of ivory trade in 1989 and devotes his life to making people care about the elephants. He said that measures taken to protect elephants from poachers and to manage habitat benefits other species of animals that dwell in Serengeti.

The biggest threat to the Samburu elephants of Kenya, he said, is the loss of migration corridors as a result of human activity.

Douglas-Hamilton described how the use of radio collars and satellite tracking has given researchers a better understanding of elephant behavior and travel, though for many years, he collected population information by flying over the African landscape in his plane.

While he loves seeing animals in the wild, Douglas-Hamilton said elephants in zoos are important “ambassadors for the elephant species.”

Elephants and other wild animals inspired Douglas-Hamilton early on in his childhood, and he said that zoos today have the role of getting children interested in protecting and learning about wildlife.

Wildlife, he said, is just that –– wild.

And once, a large female elephant charged him, ran around a bush after him and pinned him to the ground between her massive tusks. After asserting her dominance she decided to let him be. Douglas-Hamilton said he felt incredibly fortunate to have survived the incident.

Save the Elephants has four pillars: research, protection, grassroots and education.

Its founder said that one of his biggest goals is to educate Kenya’s local people about the importance of conservation so they can play an active role in protecting this iconic animal.

One of Save the Elephant’s other focuses is managing the impact of Kenya’s visitors and maintaining sustainable ecotourism practices.

Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement hosts a Save the Elephants Alternative Spring Break program, which allows students to work as interns with the elephants of Samburu and the community in that region.

The fully-booked trip runs from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12, when 12 Colorado State University students will head to Kenya to carry out the mission of Save the Elephant’s four pillars.

CSU professor George Wittemyer, who hosted the webcast event with professor Brett Bruyere, has worked with Douglas-Hamilton and Save the
Elephants for 14 years.

Staff writer Jennifer Saylor can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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