Kenya 5: Saving Elephants Amid Poverty

Today the staff of Save the Elephants and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund sponsored a trip to bring kids from the nearby village of Attan into Samburu Reserve to see elephants.

Most, if not all -- including the teacher -- had never seen an elephant, even though they live only about 20 miles from here.

Having fun with an elephant collar. Photo by Carl Safina.

I had driven past the village a few days ago. The people live in very rudimentary houses and huts. Ike Leonard, one of the people from our group who went to the village to help fetch the kids, shared his photo of their schoolroom: termite-eaten wood walls, dirt floors, and simple tables that serve as group "desks." Yet in the kids' smiles is a lesson about appreciation for all of us.

Attan School. Photo by Ike Leonard.

They spent a while watching wild animals and saw lots of elephants. At the river they got treated to seeing elephants giving themselves mud baths. Then they came to the research camp for lunch and a film about elephant poaching. Among many other things, it showed a poacher who'd just been killed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. This is a rough place.

One thing that was striking to me was how skinny these kids are. Legs like sticks. The woman from Oxford who works on outreach in villages, Lucy King, says the one meal they get at school is all the food many of them have. There is no free education past grade 8 and almost none of the families have any money for more schooling.

During the film the kids ate snacks. When they ate their snacks they just threw all the wrappers and containers on the floor around them, even though they were indoors at the time. They seem to have no concept of litter. I guess if you have no food at home, snack wrappers aren't a problem you're accustomed to having.