Cape Town - An all-female team of empathetic explorers - ladies of the Elephant Ignite Expedition - has completed an epic 16 000km, 100-day journey across Africa in a bid to change some of the horrifying statistics of Africa's gentle giants.
The African continent is losing elephants at an alarming rate - every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory in East Africa. That’s a staggering 30 000 elephants a year.
100 000 elephants were killed by poachers in just three years, and Central Africa has lost 64% of its elephants in a decade. According to wildlife conservation journalist Scott Ramsay, the African elephant saw a 97% decline in the species in less than a century.
The statistics are shocking and the consequences frightening.
That's why the Elephant Ignite Expedition team set out to raise awareness for the poaching crisis faced by Africa's declining elephant populations.
They departed from Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex in SA's KwaZulu-Natal on Women's Day on 9 August this year and arrived in Nairobi on 16 November.
The expedition travelled through 10 African countries - South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya - distributing 20 000 educational booklets to schools and communities and visiting 37 organisations that are involved in conserving African wildlife to report on the work they do.
The crew all self-funded their participation costs and all proceeds from the fundraising campaigns were directed to the nominated beneficiaries.
Their journey was focused on community upliftment, youth education, public awareness for wildlife crime and poaching and a fundraising drive to support the organisations that are fighting the battles on the frontline.
According to expedition leader, Carla Geyser, is was a humbling experience. "The projects we visited are truly amazing. It is humbling to see the dedication these people have to make a difference and protect Africa's wildlife and it motivates us to work harder to get their message to the world," she says.
In the epic finale, their last stop was a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's orphaned elephant facility in Nairobi where they had the honour of a meeting with Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela.
Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime, and she is a recognised International authority on the rearing of wild creatures and perfected the milk formula and husbandry for infant milk-dependent elephants and rhinos.
"Engaging with a true "matriarch" of conservation was an utterly memorable experience and a fitting end to the journey of a lifetime for these female explorers," the expedition says.
Check out some of the team's other favourite highlights of the trek through southern Africa:
A hands-on elephant collating operation of three elephants with Dr Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive in Hoedspruit. EIE funded the collaring of the female elephant's collar and Dr Henley announced that they will be naming her "Ignite" in aid of the expedition.
A visit to Pongola where Dr Heike Zitzer (Elephant Monitor & Researcher at White Elephant) announced that EIE will be given the honour of naming 6 sub-adult elephants. The elephants are named for research purposes to differentiate between the individuals, place them in a family tree and design their identikit which is a very handy research tool. "The naming of the elephant is normally a privilege to persons who can identify if the elephant is a male or female. I spontaneously decided to give EIE the privilege of naming these individuals because the ladies of Elephant Ignite are just as unique as our elephants. Their passion and initiative for the elephant cause will go a very long way!" Heike says.
A networking function hosted by Thea Khama, wife of honourable Minister of Environmental and Wildlife Affairs, Tshekedi Khama in Botswana provided a platform to engage with many of Botswana's conservation leaders, whilst taking part in an active anti-poaching roadblock with Conservation South Luangwa and their canine unit in Zambia put them on the frontline of antipoaching operations.
The expedition donated funds to install a borehole and waterpump in Mndanka village in Malawi a community bordering on the Kasungu National Park where the human-elephant conflict is extreme. The community had no access to water and women used to go into the park for water, putting them at risk with elephants. With access to water the community no longer has to take risks with elephant encounters and also grow crops and oyster mushrooms as the first step in a permaculture initiative. In addition they have installed beehive fences to help keep the elephants at bay. The expedition officially unveiled the pump and had a tour of the new agricultural initiatives.
A visit to the farmers in rural Kenya where bee hive fences EIE donated as part of the "Elephants and Bees" project with Dr Lucy King is helping mitigate human elephant conflict.
READ: Kenya thinks honey fences are the bee’s knees
A visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's release facility in Voi. The DSWT team care selflessly for orphaned elephant calves, never leaving their sides and sleeping with the very young calves' night. Once they are a bit older the calves are allowed to roam into the wild for extended periods of time and taught to be more independent. This facility cares for the slightly older calves and work on their release back into the wild.
Visiting Ol Pejeta Conservancy and meeting Sudan, the last living male Northern White Rhino left in the world. Destined for extinction... Standing next to this magnificent animal we were overcome with deep sadness and shame. Humanity have failed them as a species as we have failed so many others before him. Greed, ignorance, selfishness, stupidity... Call it what you want, humanity needs to take responsibility for earths living creatures.
Assisting with the immobilization and successful treatment of an injured elephant cow in Kenya and joining the team from "Save the Elephant" on a search and rescue mission to locate an orphaned calf in Samburu National Park and airlift it to safety.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- Sacred Nature: Speaking for landscapes when it can't speak for itself
- SA’s ‘Rhino Whisperer’ Cathy Dreyer crowned conservation winner by Sir David Attenborough
- #ShockWildlifeTruths: Ivory trading nations exposed