They are the great drama queens of the animal world.
Nothing is happier than a happy elephant; nothing is angrier than an angry elephant.
Saba Douglas-Hamilton (BBC This Wild Life, BBC Big Cat Diaries) speaks with huge affection if you mention the world elephant. Just as you’d expect. She brings her show A Life With Elephants to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on April 1 (http://www.worthingtheatres.co.uk).
Saba was born in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya on June 7 at 7pm on the seventh day of the week, and became the seventh grandchild in the family. Her name means “seven” in Kiswahili.
When Saba was six weeks old she met her first wild animal, an elephant called Virgo who was one of approximately 400 elephants that her zoologist father, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, was studying in Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.
Saba’s first job was with Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, working in the hinterland of the Skeleton Coast on a Crafts for Conservation project.
In 1997 Saba joined her father’s charity Save the Elephants (STE) as chief operations officer to help build up their research centre in Samburu National Reserve, north Kenya. It was here that she was talent-spotted by the BBC and began her life as a TV presenter and producer of wildlife documentaries.
“What I love about elephants is that they share so many things in common with us and yet their experience of life is completely different in ways that we will never be able to appreciate. They experience life on such a grand scale, and they are just such drama queens. They can span a remarkable eight-octave range in their ability to communicate. They are deeply emotional and deeply dramatic. You can see that they feel so deeply from the way they act. You can see the way they figure things out, and their memory is extraordinary. And they feel such compassion and empathy, that ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes which is very very rare, and yet they feel it.”
Yes, an elephant might reject seemingly brutally an orphaned elephant calf, but as Saba says, you just have to see it from their point of view. “An elephant will be pregnant for 22 months and will then suckle for two years – an enormous investment of time and feeling which makes it so difficult to take on another youngster. They are just such extraordinary animals.”
Saba’s talk inevitably will entertain, but it will also raise awareness: “Part of that will be going back into my past and what it means to grow up with elephants and my love and respect for wildlife then, as things changed, my growing, driving passion to protect our environment.”
The initial, damaging change, as Saba sees it, has been population pressures and what it has meant in terms of impact on the environment. Saba is convinced there is plenty we can do about it: “But it has become a political hot potato and people are shying away from it when really the most humane thing we can do is to try to keep our population levels under control rather than letting them spiral.”