Thank you Barbara Shepler for alerting me to this breaking news.
I am deeply saddened to report that my elephant conservation friends Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, founders of Save the Elephants, had their research center and eco-camp destroyed by a tsunami-like flood in Samburu, Kenya today.
Save the Elephants - Media Release
Nairobi, 4 March 2010
STE Research Camp Hit by Floods
Early this morning Save the Elephants (STE) research facility and Elephant Watch Safari Camp located in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, were completely destroyed by unexpected flooding of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, along with seven other neighbouring lodges.
At approximately 5am this morning, a wall of water akin to a Tsunami surged through Elephant Watch Camp, catching tourists and staff unawares and sweeping away tents and facilities. It has been confirmed that camp owner Oria Douglas-Hamilton and guests managed to escape to safety by climbing to higher ground. Several members of staff were trapped in trees until the water subsided later today.
At approximately 7am the flood hit and decimated Save the Elephants’ research facility down river. Researchers and staff managed to drive to safety within seconds of the flood waters surging through the facility.
News just in confirm scenes of devastations at both facilities, with beds, tents, computers and vital research documentation submerged in mud and strung up in the treetops. Over 200 people watched from a hill above the camps as the waters wrecked havoc.
Staff and researchers hastily salvaged computers and camera equipment, but reports confirm that key research data, computers, equipment, kitchen facilities and food, lodging and personal effects have been washed away.
Although it is too early to asses the cost of the damage, Operations Manager Lucy King expects it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild the facility, and Save the Elephants is now calling on the generosity of donors and interested parties to kick start the effort.
The immediate relief process has already begun, with blankets and water flown in by STE founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton this morning, as well as the assistance of the British army which is attempting to airlift people to safety and bring additional supplies.
The waters have currently receded to the point where staff are able to wade through the remnants of the facilities and retrieve what is left of their belongings.
Ominously, heavy rain clouds hang over Samburu and more heavy rains are expected as early as this evening at what is only the start of Kenya’s rainy season.
Please note that news updates on the flooding will be posted on the STE website. To donate to STE’s rebuilding effort, please go to www.savetheelephants.org
For all media enquiries please contact:
Lucy King: +254 (0)720 275561
This is a terrible loss for all the people involved, as well as elephants world-wide. Meeting Iain and Oria is one of the reasons I went to Kenya a few years ago. They are an inspiration to me for their elephant conservation work, but also as an amazing family.
Oria is a matriarch for me. I love her sense of eco-chic Swahili style. I feel a sense of kindred spirit with her. Secretly, I wish she'd adopt me (my real mom passed away) but I never had the nerve to gush so openly before.
I was so happy in Samburu. My heart and body felt that I'd found my true home.
Oria's Elephant Watch Camp was so beautiful. It was even featured in Architectural Digest in 2007. Positioned right on the Ewaso Nyiro River, it didn't stand a chance against today's flood.
The Save the Elephants research center was a 5-minute drive from the camp, so this was a terrible flood indeed. Below is a photo of the research department. Those are elephant bones lined up out front.
One of the main goals of their work is mitigating human elephant conflict. Save the Elephants has done ground-breaking work in tracking the migratory routes of elephants with GPS collars. As human populations swell, inevitably they build homes and farms in the path of elephants and conflicts arise when the elephants pass back through.
You really can't teach a wild elephant to not eat crops and it's not easy to keep elephants away. So hopefully we can teach humans to build their communities away from known elephant migration routes and find ways of conserving, rather than killing elephants over competition for resources.
It seems that the flooding is still at a dangerous stage, so there's no telling what the damages and losses of research data are. Their entire situation seems dire. This article, Floods Destroy Property in Samburu Park, explains that the neighboring lodges (Samburu-Serena, Intrepids, and Larsen) were also submerged. Rescue crews are on the job. The bigger job will be in starting over and rebuilding a new center to save the elephants.
Donations can be made to one of the addresses on the Save the Elephants Donation page.