The idea for Elephant Watch Camp came to Oria Douglas-Hamilton when she and her family – husband Iain and daughters Saba and Mara – were in Canada for the premiere of an IMAX film – Africa’s elephant kingdom they had worked on in the late 1990s. One afternoon the family took a whale-watching boat trip in the waters off Vancouver. Observing the ecstatic enthusiasm provoked by a dorsal fin slicing through the water, Oria realised that there could be sustained interest for visitors to come to Africa to experience the same kinds of moments with herds of wild elephants instead of whales.
She and Iain were pioneers of elephant research in Tanzania and Kenya, and particularly in Samburu National Reserve. Their everyday experiences accepted in the heart of known elephant families were beyond compare, akin to swimming with wild dolphins. Many supporters of Save the Elephants – the conservation charity founded by Oria’s husband, Iain – had expressed an interest in coming to visit the research station, but at the time there was nowhere for guests to stay who wanted luxurious accommodation but were conscious of their footprint on a fragile ecosystem.
Oria set to work imagining the ultimate eco-lodge, and then turned her dreams into a reality in the wilds of Samburu. As well as constructing buildings from all-natural materials that melded completely into their surroundings, she trained a team of local nomads to supply the highest levels of service. Key to Oria’s vision was that Elephant Watch should encourage a balanced, respectful and profoundly meaningful engagement with the wild world so as enchant her guests with all things elephant and recruit people to the conservation cause.
Elephant Watch was founded on the deep awareness that we are the temporary guardians of this very special place, and the camp continues to operate according to our strict eco-philosophy. Thankfully, in the Samburu people who work with us, we have found crucial allies and partners who likewise cherish this unique ecosystem. Together, we can implement our dream of bringing guests to north Kenya to enjoy this spectacular wilderness, and, by the simple act of coming to visit, help preserve it and its wildlife for the future.
Elephant Watch sits in a shaded oasis of Kigelia and Acacia trees on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in one of Kenya’s most spectacular but lesser-visited wildlife areas, Samburu National Reserve. The reserve itself is a small part of a vast and arid landscape that stretches all the way up to the Ethiopian border, in a land of endless rugged beauty and untamed unfenced wilderness. The ecosystem around us has one of the largest elephant populations in Kenya, 1000 of which have been individually identified and are being studied by researchers at Save the Elephants.
To the south lies another national reserve, Buffalo Springs, and beyond that the land rises slowly up to the peaks of Africa’s second-highest mountain, Mt Kenya. To the north, nomads roam with their goats and camels in territories where the reach of modernity is weak and patchy. Samburu lies on the frontier between these two worlds.