Tag Archives: elephants

Lunch with Elephants


Samburu is home to some big, beautiful herds of elephants.  Tourists come to Samburu just to see them. When you see elephants in their natural habitat it is exhilarating.  That sight never gets old. They are magnificent creatures.  Here at The Samburu Project, we’ve heard many times that elephants are a major threat to our wells. They need water too and when their highly efficient trunks smell water, they try to get it. It’s terrifying and dangerous for anyone at a well.  Sometimes, where these threats exist, the communities construct a fence of spiky bushes around the well to keep these magnificent creatures at bay.  Imagine our reaction when we came across the site of two elephants having lunch right next to our well near the Sere Olipi Trading Center.

This is a site that is not deep in the bush. In fact, it is right along side a major roadway and close to town.  We were able to get out of the car for a brief well inspection but Eric insisted we not stray too far or call too much attention to ourselves.  Elephants pose a real challenge to our work.   I felt lucky to have witnessed this sight with my own eyes after hearing about it for so many years and am happy to share the photo with our supporters. It is an excellent illustration of the challenges we face working in this remote but beautiful area. 

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Linda’s Samburu Story #1

I left Los Angeles days ago. Twelve hours flying to London, another eleven flying to Nairobi, 4 hours sleep and then up again at 5am to make an 8am Air Kenya flight to Samburu which would take another hour and a half. As we leave the skyscrapers and traffic of the developing world behind, Mt. Kenya emerges on the horizon. Another half hour and the earth begins to turn a deep red that I’ve see in the American west and Hawaii. Are those giraffe below us? Yes, they are. Five years, approximately 30 hours and I am finally here, in Samburu.

The Kalama Airstrip in Samburu.

The Kalama Airstrip in Samburu.

As we approach the airstrip I can see Lucas waving up at me. I can’t believe I am finally here. Lucas informs us that there is a change of plans. The well drilling rig has a broken part. Someone has been dispatched to Nairobi to get a replacement. (If only we knew, we could have brought it.) We will wait another day for the well drill to begin. In the meantime, we are off to visit the Ntilal #1 Well and to meet the people of that community.

As we head off the main road, we are struck by the magnificent landscape and the bluest sky above. We proceed through the red dirt until we see a huge tree with a protective ring of dried thorny twigs around it. Lucas pulls over and tells me this “structure” is why he works for TSP. We get out of the car and enter the nursery school, the first of its kind in these parts. The students had all gone home for the day but their chalkboard told us that they had classes today. The date on the upper right read 10/20/2015 followed by multiplication tables. It wasn’t hard to imagine their smiling faces on the hand cobbled benches under the shade of the beautiful tree above. Nearby was a 3 walled structure that was their kitchen, also a byproduct of the TSP water. Considering less than 5% of Samburu are literate, this school was proof that TSP is engaged in life changing work for everyone in this community.



In about 5 minutes, we approach the Ntilal #1 well where we find about a dozen children of various ages pumping water and washing clothes. Our presence was quite the surprise and a foreign, white lady was quite alien to them. Lucas explained that we were here from The Samburu Project and wanted to talk about water. It took a little while to break the ice with the shy, curious toddlers but a few high fives and we had started a game. Shortly we could see the women of the community approaching with their gerry-cans. Their brightly patterned kangas and beautiful beaded jewelry announced their presence. Mama Sarah, who seemed to be the oldest in this group was surprisingly gregarious. She has 9 children and was eager to hug me tightly and thank me for the water. I didn’t have to ask how the water has changed her life, it flowed out of her. She no longer had to walk miles and miles for water. This water is good, doesn’t make her sick. She can tend to her animals and her children now go to school. Life is good, thanks to us at The Samburu Project. Sarah wanted to send her greetings to Bob, my fellow board member and all the other people who helped drill this well. She told the story of sleeping at the well site when the rig pulled up in 2013. Staying there and praying until the clean water came out of the earth. Along with other ladies in this group, she broke into song and dance, as is the Samburu way to celebrate and say thank you.


Mama Sarah in profile on left with members of the Ntilal #1 Well Community.

Mama Sarah in profile on left with members of the Ntilal #1 Well Community.

Sarah emphatically wanted me to know how greatly they appreciate EVERYTHING we are doing for them. I was so overcome that I fought back tears of joy. I have been telling any and everyone who would listen for 5 years about the work TSP is doing here and now, for the first time, I am seeing our work with my own eyes and feeling in my heart the connection with these ladies. It took a while to remember that I was also here to do a job..ask questions! Right! I ask Sarah and the other ladies if any of them had experiences with wild animals. Yes! They replied, elephants were here this morning, you can see their footprints, droppings and the damage to the fence they made. When they saw the elephants this morning, they were scared and stayed in their homes until the elephants wandered off. They had already had a community meeting early in the afternoon to hatch a plan to repair the fence. The well is their lifeline, they will not stand for it being in jeopardy of being destroyed by more elephants!


We took more photos and chatted through Lucas and an interpreter George. These ladies have a sister community that is desperate for a well and lobbied Lucas to help. By now the children were comfortable, wanting to touch my skin and red nails. One little girl kissed my hand before running off giggling. Is that a camel in the distance? We said our good-byes not before hoping we see each other again. Whew! There you have it. A day in the life of the Ntilal #1 well community, elephants in the morning and a curly-haired white lady with red nails in the afternoon. Life sure is full of surprises – for us all!  Stay tuned for more stories from Samburu.


You can see video from this well community visit on The Samburu Project’s Facebook page:



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Water for Elephants?

The Samburu people have coexisted with the large animal populations in their tribal region in Kenya for centuries, most notably, the African Elephant. In centuries past, the Samburu people and elephants have lived in relative harmony, some anecdotes going so far as to say they shared the same village. In an interview with The Independent a tribesman elaborates, “The first man said the elephant is like us, like our brother, and we have to live together, not hunt elephant. That’s what we say we were told at the beginning. That’s what we still believe. The elephant has always been, and will always be, special to us. This is why we protect it now.” With the proliferation of poaching, this role of protection is even more relevant. Despite the international ban on ivory, elephant poaching still exists and demands attention from policy makers and local initiatives alike. In the wake of enacting new orders of protection coupled with drought conditions, complex and controversial conflicts have arisen between the conservation of elephant populations and preservation of human life in Samburu.
Drought conditions have forced surveyors to expand their search for water, all the while, elephants are drawn to these newly discovered water sources. Described as “violently defensive” the clash between elephants and people over limited resources is especially dangerous. For wildlife activists, elephant safety ranks above all else, resulting in the formation of reservations or plots of land dedicated entirely to wildlife habitats. Human aid activists and locals, however, suggest these government-allocated plots of land grant animals an unfair advantage over humans. The reality is, the government gives elephants completely political control over a region despite previous human habitation. Yet, population growth caused this encroachment into elephant habitats more so than they had in the past. Furthermore, government-allocated land for reservation usage only intensified the issue in some regions. No doubt both sides of the argument have validity, however, clashing opinions result in divergent solutions and exclusionary practices. People are kept out of reservation lands in spite of potential benefits, while a rouge elephant is met with trepidation and resentment. Instead of focusing on conflicting ideologies of human preservation and wildlife conservation, aid-workers must now look back to where it all started: coexistence. Penalize those exploiting the land and animals, not those who are simply trying to survive. Excluding humans from potentially beneficial space brings to question “who is more important: people or animals?”, a debate that is not easy to approach no matter how you look at it.

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