My sister Marie works for Space for Giant; a Kenyan based charity which aims to protect Africa’s elephants. They train, equip and pay for frontline ranger units to keep wildlife safe from poachers, work to increase penalties and successful prosecutions for wildlife crimes.
They build fences around farmers’ fields to keep them safe from elephants that can destroy harvests, which provokes violent retaliation and what’s called ‘human-elephant conflict.’
She organizes a yearly adventure in Africa to start a discussion around conservation and introduce the reality to the people on the ground. I always overlooked what she did. But this year seemed particularly relevant as the WWF Living Planet released their 2018 Report which showed that the population size of wildlife decreased by 60% globally between 1970 and 2014!
It startled me. I wanted to do something, yet, well yet I was slightly skeptical. When I donate, I always wonder where my money is actually going. Am I helping out? It still feels a bit abstract.
Marie was organizing a bicycle trip around Namibia, in the desert of Damaraland. “Damaraland is one of the most scenic areas in Namibia: a huge, untamed, ruggedly beautiful region,” she told me. “One of Southern Africa’s most underrated wildlife-watching areas.”
I thought: “Sounds cool, But biking? Good lord.”
In retrospect, I wish you people would donate one dollar for every drop of sweat my body produced because seriously it was no walk in the park. I died— But no one cares because;
I embarked on this adventure that ended up being a life-changing experience.
We had a gathered a rather absurd team: A BMX world champion (Seventh-time world champion to be precise), a Victoria Secret model, an investment banker, a perfume maker, a real estate investor, my journalist sister, and my unemployed-self.
We all flew to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where our guides greeted us: four,
out of the ordinary(to say the least) characters.
The inimitable Ziggy, a booze-driven, die-hard biker that would scream: ‘speed is your friend’ as he whizzed passed us, a bunch of rookie cyclists, motionless, pedaling with all our strength through the thick desert sand.
Alpha, who taught us all the Xhosa’s clicks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrK-XVCwGnI. Terry, the wildlife specialist, who can imitate the Ruppel’s korhaan calling like no other, and last but not least, the mastermind behind this whole trip: Stefan. All locals, most of them living in the bush, eager to share with us the reality of the situation, but also ready for a friggin good laugh. Spending time with them was an extraordinary opportunity to gain perspective and notably to see the limitation of our group, slaves to the modern times: “Will there be wifi, so I don’t get fired” one dared to ask.
The most alarming thing I learnt from Space for Giants and my expedition in Namibia, is that poaching may not be the greatest threat to elephants. The empty lands we were crossing are at risk. Space for Giants works in eight African countries. Globally, human population is rising, and economies are developing fast. As that happens, there is an increasing demand for land to be used “productively”. Often, that means farming or industry. But sometimes that development pushes significant human activity into what was wildlife habitat. That brings people and animals closer together, and that raises risks for both species. If elephants lose their habitat, they will go extinct as surely as if the poaching continues. What’s actually needed is large, connected areas of land where elephants can move freely with “green corridors” linking them together.
That’s what the money that was raised will go to pay for: for Space for Giants to secure these vast areas of land for conservation. They’ll do it by supporting ranger units to keep elephants safe, and by making stricter legal repercussions against poachers. They’ll work to reduce human-elephant conflict – By building fences for example (See video below), and to bring new investments to elephant landscapes that send greater rewards to local people who should be the first protectors their natural heritage.
Many questions still remain.
Did Marie unite this group in hopes that, after our trip, we would touch as many people as we could in our different fields?
Did she know we would be a fantastic team? I’m still not sure…
Also, why did we bike? So we could cover more land?
We did surprise a few elephants along the way. On our second day of biking in the bed river of the Huab, we casually stumbled upon a whole herd. It was magical, our group looking like ridiculous metallic ants facing these gentle giants.
Even in the camps- oh yes, because we also slept outside. I will forever remember going to the latrines in the middle of the night and coming face to face with a teenage elephant that wanted to play…
I’ll also remember being terrified at night that a lion might devour us, but thankfully (not naming names) a certain tall Peruvian guy snored like a sleeping tiger and it kept us all safe.
One thing is for sure though, sleeping under the stars, without cell phone reception or connection the “real world,” was a real luxury. Yes, a few of us almost got dumped or fired after the trip, but it made us realize how good it feels to live in the moment, as we all used to (or should). The strength of the ties we created are a testimony to the power of just “being there.” These real experiences allow us to better understand the impact a few dollars can have, and the importance of having to step up for the kind of world we want to protect.
I hope that by sharing this experience with you, you will want to donate or come with us on the next trip.
PS: All donations are going directly to the charity and not to the trip that we paid for ourselves.
However, you can find a leechee link to finance my next facelift in the following article.
Film by Mathias Dandois
If you want to know more on space for giants click here https://spaceforgiants.org