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Saba Douglas-Hamilton is a familiar face to many in the UK having recently featured in TV programmes about wildlife of Kenya. She has hosted nine TV series, including BBC Big Cat Diary, which she co-presented with Jonathan Scott and Simon King; over twenty-four wildlife documentaries and has also directed two award-winning films, Heart of a Lioness and Rhino Nights, which recorded previously unknown behaviour for the first time. Currently 'This Wild Life' filmed at Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu, is being aired in the UK on BBC2 at 7pm every Monday and Tuesday from 31 August to 29 September 2015.
Saba was just six weeks old when she met her first elephant, and since then has spent countless hours among them and many other iconic wildlife species around the world. She now assists her father with elephant conservation through charity Save the Elephants, founded by her zoologist father, Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton CBE, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the African elephant. After her children were born, Saba took time out to run the family’s safari lodge, Elephant Watch Camp, in Samburu National Reserve, northern Kenya, and has only recently returned to film making to work on this twelve part series for the BBC about life in the bush with her author and conservationist husband, Frank Pope, and their three young children.
Watching this series for the first time, I was a little apprehensive, fearing another tacky take on life in a safari camp which we have previously seen with actors playing 'game keeper' in scenes set up purely for the cameras! However, I found myself glued to the screen as I saw the same stunning Kenyan Rift Valley landscape that I knew and loved from my years as a tour guide, when I was based in Nairobi, leading trips through East and Southern Africa. Samburu lands stretch north of Mount Kenya and are one of the best places in Africa to see wild elephants at their best, thanks to the work of Saba and her team at Save the Elephants.
Elephants have always been an obsession of mine, I collected anything to do with elephants for decades and through my work at Chester Zoo in the 80s-90s I studied animal behaviour and zoology and was closely involved with the elephants, co-ordinating conservation events and conferences around Europe and then finally setting foot on African soil to see it all for real (read more about my story here!).
However, where This Wild Life really strikes a chord with me is the 'fly on the wall' stories of running a safari camp in the bush. During my time in Africa I spent a couple of seasons in South Luangwa in Zambia, another 'hot spot' for our pachyderm friends! Baboons raiding the kitchen, snakes in the bar, medical emergencies, trouble with poachers and leopards chasing our cat were all part of the job as a safari host in Africa! Improvising in the kitchen became the norm with regular power cuts and me teaching the Zambian chefs to make British favourites like pie and mash and coming up with some interesting combinations of food on a plate (including custard with steak pie as they told me that "pie comes with custard" having only made apple pie before!). One morning I stepped into my shower to find no water and a dark shadow blocking the window hole ... looking closer there was a beautiful huge elephant eye batting it's lashes at me! She had broken the pipes digging them out of the ground to find water ....
Watching Saba driving her Land Rover bare foot through the bush really takes me back to my years in the bush ... now I just drive my modern Land Rover in Suffolk barefoot .. no elephants on the roads but I often need to stop for herds of cows or, last week, a stray sheep!
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