Saba Douglas-Hamilton Interview

 
 
 

CONSERVATIONIST Q&A: Saba Douglas-Hamilton

 

The woman protecting Kenya's elephants on motherhood, traveling with kids, and saving the world one small step at a time.

By: SANDY CUNNINGHAM

 

PHOTO COURTESY: Frank Pope

 
 
 

Q:

 

So tell us, do you define yourself predominately as a mother, conservationist, safari camp owner, or documentary star? 

 
 

A:

I’m a mother and a conservationist, both of which go hand-in-hand if we wish to secure a sustainable future for our children. My work now at Elephant Watch Camp is about much more than managing a safari camp.  What I try to do is introduce people to the magical world of elephants through the eyes of what we’ve experienced as researchers and then recruiting them to the conservation cause.

 
 

 

"We call this conservation-tourism, and it has proven to be very effective."

 
 
 
 

Q:

 

How has living and raising a family so close to elephants shaped the story of your life? 

 
 

A:

I’ve always felt that elephants are special; they’re highly intelligent, sentient creatures that share many emotions in common with us like love, anger, joy, grief, and more complex emotions like empathy and compassion. I often think of them as “people” and have found that same sentiment extended to most other creatures in the natural world.

 
 
 

Q:

 

Raising three little girls in the bush would seem pretty hair-raising to most folks. How do you do it? 

 
 

A:

With so many animals around, we decided to employ a ninja-nanny to help us with the kids—a Samburu warrior called Mporian who teaches them all about the wildlife and is there to protect them from the hazards of the bush. And we do home-school so they are busy from 8:30 in the morning until about 3:00 pm doing their lessons. Otherwise, we have to teach them to be bush-wise in the same way that one teaches children to be street-wise.  They have to keep an eye out for elephants, snakes or scorpions, and be as consistent with avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes as one has to be about brushing one’s teeth. 

 
 
 
 

Q:

 

Given the security concerns in Africa the past few years, what are your thoughts on taking a safari with the family in tow?

 
 

A:

Taking your kids on safari is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Opening their eyes to an entirely different part of the world and a very different way of life, as well as the opportunity to meet animals in the wild living the way they have through the millennia, and of course, nothing beats seeing an animal in the flesh in its natural habitat.

As we’ve seen from the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, danger is everywhere, but we can’t let that rule our lives. The more we learn about distant lands and other people, the more we improve our understanding and increase our empathy. That is the route to international peace and understanding.

 
 
 

Q:

 

Your family could be considered Conservation Royalty. What does it mean to grow up in such a public light and with such a daunting and important family legacy placed upon your shoulders?

 
 

A:

I don’t really feel that I have grown up in the public light, but I do feel the responsibility of being a conservationist keenly. In my opinion we all need to be conservationists, in whatever way we can, to work towards building a truly sustainable future on our finite planet where currently our natural systems are under attack from every side.

 

 

"Taking your kids on safari is one of the greatest gifts you can give them."

 
 
 
 

Q:

 

For those who want to get involved in conservation but aren’t sure how, what is your advice?

 
 

A:

The growing legion of animal lovers around the world represent a huge untapped resource of skills, talent, energy, intelligence, and passion that can be focused on protecting the natural world. It’s just about looking at what you do already and seeing how you can “re-purpose” it to contribute. For example, if you’re a nurse or a doctor, you can contribute towards educating people about child-spacing or family planning, or mother/baby healthcare, and work towards ensuring that every child that is born is a wanted child and not a result of carelessness or neglect. We can teach our children to be more compassionate towards animals, give free dentistry to the men and women who work at sea to stop illegal fishing, or start campaigning for wildlife corridors to reconnect wild areas. We can eat less meat. Use less water. Buy less. The idea is to start with just one thing.

 

Learn more about Saba's mother's property, Elephant Watch Camp, on the Journal.

 
 

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