Out for Africa

 
 

I am an actress, an animal activist and a wife, married to a South African whose family emigrated to East Africa in the early 1900's and also "Had a farm in Africa,” in Kenya, near Karen Blixen's. We have a story to tell and a message to impart, devised by on the ground experts, and if told broadly enough, can change minds and save species.


My husband, Abri van Straten, his mother, Cicely, went to Kenya with a camera crew to see majestic Elephant families and rhino in their natural habitat to meet with the real heroes who work tirelessly for the African wildlife to shine a light on the crisis facing Elephants and Rhino due to rampant poaching for the ivory and horn trades to supply the growing asian market - and to take Cicely home to Kenya to see her father's beloved Elephants for the first time since her family fled to South Africa during Uhuru.


Elephants and Rhinoceros are in crisis. Rhino in the wild have now gone extinct. Poaching for Elephant ivory and Rhino horn is at an all-time high. In 2011, more elephant tusks were seized than in any year since 1989 when the ivory trade was banned.  Accelerated poaching made 2011 the worst year for the Rhino and 2012 has been even worse. The Western Black Rhino and has now gone extinct entirely as well as the Northern White Rhino. If we don't do more it is likely the last of the rhino and Elephants in the wild will also be extinct in less than fifteen years, at this rate.


People always ask me in the face of such hard, sad and disgraceful information, “What can I do?”  And I think we can start by finding out and that is what this project has been centered around. We went to Africa to look and ask the amazing Africans who are living this crisis the complex and huge questions, "What is happening?" and “What can we do to help you?” Together elephants and rhino stand a chance, separate they won't make it and I believe therefore, neither will we.


My mother-in-law, Cicely Luck van Straten, is one of the most widely published female authors in South Africa. Her books accomplish her mission of keeping alive the native African stories, folk tales and history. She writes her books for the black African, and has been teaching in townships for decades. She speaks three African languages - Swahili, Zulu and Afrikaans. Her father, Cecil Luck, was a professor of physiology and led a breakthrough in large animal tranquilization, helping treat, relocate and save Hippopotamus, Elephants, Lion and more. His pioneering protocol with M99 is still used today. His peers were George Adamson and Diane Fossey. Cicely was raised with a baboon named Josephine, a bush baby named Chappy and a hippo named Bombo - all orphaned and dropped on her family’s doorstep for her father to save. Wildlife was his specialty and passion, especially the Elephant and Hippo. Cecil was a fascinating man. He was also an expert witness in a high profile precedent setting case in South Africa against apartheid, testifying on what constitutes physical torture regarding devices used in the Cinderella prison.

"I had a farm in Africa" is the literal truth for Cicely’s family and the phrase that still inspires the majesty and mystery of Kenya for many of us.


In Kenya, we conversed with these locations and people who live and breath a way of life  that inspires and illustrates a paradigm on how to actually make the world a better place and the only way for this project called Earth to work:


  1. -After about 30 hours of travel we stayed in the Nairobi National Park at Emakoko with the owners Emma and Anthony Childs, self described “bush people.” Anthony has spent years in the bush and Emma worked for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. We crossed the Nairobi national park to see the incredible work Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela are doing to care for baby elephants and Rhinos orphaned by the Ivory and horn trade. Daphne has written an incredible book called Love, Life and Elephants that I was sent by my mother in law, Cicely, and is one of the best books Ive ever read. What she and the many Africans that run her sanctuary do is heart breaking and heart warming work.


  1. -Amboseli National Park, the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging wild elephant, among other wildlife species, located in the shadow of the magnificent snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro and the site of IFAW’s newest and most vital conservation project. Amboseli is one of the parks Cecil Luck (Abri’s grandfather) did his research in which you can see on the “Family Photos” page. We met with the heads of the IFAW team: James Iseche, head of the E African Office, Jason Bell, head of Elephant conservation, Calvin Alley, head of crimes and awareness training anti-poaching division, and Steve Njumbi, an elephant scientist who worked with Cynthia Moss. I spoke with James Iseche during his trip to Los Angeles last year and was the impetus for this project. What a lovely knowledgable tenacious man. 

  2. -In Amboseli we met with Dr Cynthia Moss who has conducted the longest running study of elephants in the world. Cynthia is a well known author and the first to observe and explain so much of what we now know about elephants. To go on a game drive with Cynthia is the most incredible experience as only in her car can one leave the road and sit amongst families of wild elephants witnessing how God made them to be.


  1. -From Amboseli we caught a bush plane to iThumba in the enormous Tsavo Eest Game park. iThumba is the home to the orphaned elephant “graduates” from the David Sheldrick Trust Nairobi nursery. Here they will live with their keepers for another few years as they slowly transition back to the wild with the help of the Ex-orphans who come to visit and help the new arrivals. We stayed in tents, and visited with the orphans for bottle feedings and mud baths, and were hosted by Piers and Hillary Bastard. Piers is a Safari wildlife expert and also the creator of Sarara, our next stop.


  1. -We’ll then took a bush plane to Sarara in the Rift Valley of Northern Kenya run by the Bastard family. Sarara is an incredible conservation story, paradigm and success. Ian Craig had the vision to create this conservancy called Namanyuk after helplessly watching an entire family of elephants be gunned down for their ivory by Somali poachers on this very hill. He talked his friend Piers Bastard into creating an eco resort out of nothing more than a rocky hillside and the few tents they had. There was no wildlife left due to Somali poaching and the local Samburu didn’t want them there, they had no trust for white man. Now fifteen years later it has grown to 850,000 acres with a gorgeous eco lodge at the center owned completely, down to every fork, by a very happy Samburu people. Its now all under the umbrella of the Northern Rangelands trust which encompasses 1.5 million acres. And the best part is the elephants have come back! And following elephants come eland, kudu, zebra...and then the big cats. But it all started with a decision.


  1. -Our final stop was also in the Rift Valley: LEWA Wildlife Conservancy. Lewa is the home to Ian Craig and his family. The man behind the Sarara concept of the Namunyak conservancy, and now the Northern Rangelands Trust. Ian has turned his families cattle ranch in to a private sanctuary that guards the last of the Grevys Zebra and the black rhino (and white rhino). What this family has done at LEWA is astounding and the effort put forth to guard the last of the rhinos, 24-7, is heart breaking that conservation has come to this but also so hopeful as with the level of coordination of effort the team at LEWA has organized, it actually seems as if “we” can win this. IF we all participate - and if we don’t...the fate of African wildlife and her people is uncertain.


We wish to inspire as much of the world as we can reach with images of places, animals, and the people working to protect Elephants, Rhinos and other wildlife on the ground in Kenya, and personal stories of a time we would do best to remember in order to preserve what remains of that Africa for us, for future generations, and just for herself.



 

The Plan

“The Love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”


Charles Darwin