Snapshots: That is how NOT to save elephants, Lupita

Lupita Elephant
Lupita poses with an elephant during her Kenyan tour  Photo: Facebook/Lupita

I hear Lupita Nyong’o, the daughter of Seme, wants to ‘save’ elephants. And being a pesky journalist, I will offer unsolicited advice.

First, dearest Lupita, if you want to save elephants, never say you love them. Revere and fear them. Love blinds one to reality.

We don’t view elephants as ‘beautiful’ creatures down here. They destroy our crops, flatten our huts, kill and impoverish us. That is why newspapers call them ‘marauding herds of elephants’.

You will see pictures of angry villagers demonstrating against rampaging jumbos, or gleefully chopping an elephant they have just speared into pieces of meat for the pot.

If you are very lucky, you might see a picture of a KWS ranger atop an elephant carcass, rifle in hand, trying and failing comically to reenact Ernest Hemingway’s aristocratic pose from one of his hunting expeditions in Africa.

You could also bump into a picture of elephant carcasses shrunk with starvation, following a prolonged drought, or a tiny report tucked away in a corner of the newspaper describing terrified villagers fleeing, after a herd of ‘marauding elephants’ trumpeted into their village with the swagger of a well-fed politician. This in a place where elephants have not been seen in 50 years.

But at that glitzy dinner at the Kempinsiki, where elephant savers were clinking champagne glasses and speaking through the nose, if a journeyman described elephants as ‘marauding’, he or she would have been set upon by angry elephant lovers and flung out.

I would be surprised if anyone you met at the Kempinski mentioned human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat, climate change... Who cares? Wildlife trade and poaching make for sexier photography any day.

That is why I chuckled when I saw you feeding elephant orphans with a baby bottle. Dearest Lupita, ‘saving’ a cute baby elephant and flying it to an orphanage in Nairobi makes for a nice sob story for wazungu and a wonderful fundraising opportunity. But in the wider scheme of things, it is a waste of time and cash.

‘Orphaned’ baby elephants are supposed to be chewed by hyenas. Brutal, but that’s how the ecosystem works. Look Lupita, elephants don’t need ‘saving’. They require management and conservation. That means securing wildlife habitats, using well-paid armed men, and managing what elephants eat, how and where they move and how they reproduce

— with science. Unfortunately, people who love elephants talk about tears, not science.

So, if you want to save elephants, avoid hotels and animal orphanages. Go to Tsavo, where those cute ‘orphans’ come from and assemble five people: The park warden, the anti-poaching unit commander, the warden in charge of the Problem Animal Control Unit, the resident scientist and a Samburu man called Captain Obrien.

You will learn more useful things about saving elephants from these people than you ever will from bottle-feeding baby jumbos. Trust me, stopping wildlife trade when the ecosystem is bleeding is meaningless.


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