Journey to the plains of Kenya
North of Mt. Kenya on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River lies Samburu National Reserve. The elephants of this region have been studied by Save the Elephants for over 20 years. Get to know the landscape, people and wildlife of Samburu.
Understanding & protecting elephants
Individually Identified Elephants
Recorded Field Observations
Hours of GPS Tracking
Here you can see Pilipili of the Spices family, whose name means “chili pepper” in Swahili. Elephants families are given thematic names (eg., The Royals) and then each family member receives a name on that theme (eg., Elizabeth, Henry, Noor). Baby elephants are identified by numeric codes based on their mother and their birth year. Behind Pilipili you can see her 5-year-old calf whose code is M63.9410. Explore this place.
This 16-year-old bull is the son of Ebony, the matriarch of the Hardwoods family that was poached in 2011. You can identify male elephants by their rounder heads and bigger bodies. As male elephants grow up they transition into bull elephant society, dispersing from their families and spending more time with other bulls or looking for mates. Around age 30 a bull will start coming into musth regularly, boosting his chances of procreation. Explore this place.
Elephants are very social and spend lots of time with their own family and others. They can recognize hundreds of other elephants. On the left is Alto of the Clouds family with her calf, and on the right is Habiba from the Swahili Ladies (notice her GPS collar!). After her mother was poached, Habiba was orphaned and joined the Spices until she had her own calf. You can see her daughter in the background, along with Layla and her calf from the Swahili Ladies. Explore this place.
Meet the elephant families of Samburu
Family structure is extremely important to elephants, and preservation of the family unit is vital for a healthy elephant population. Save the Elephants has identified and monitored over 70 elephant families in Samburu. Spend some time with them.
Protecting Kenya's elephants
A poaching crisis has swept Africa in recent years, claiming more than 100,000 elephants between 2010-2012. A dedicated group of individuals and organizations are working together to protect them. Learn about the fight for the future of the African elephant.
Save the Elephants uses GPS collars to track elephants in the wild. Monitoring elephants allows the organization to track movement patterns, observe changes in behavior and manage the safety of individual elephants. STE has collared a total of 266 elephants across Africa.
Monitoring elephants is done on the ground, from the sky and via GPS tracking. Researchers spend hours taking detailed notes on elephant behavior and movement, while at places like the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, data from collared elephants is overlaid in Google Earth to track elephants in near real-time.
There is a ground war being waged across Africa for the future of elephants. In Samburu, trained bloodhounds are used to track poachers across the bush. The Kenya Wildlife Service, Samburu National Reserve rangers and the Northern Rangelands Trust community conservancies have been collaborating to combat poachers. They have been successful, and in 2014 elephant births outnumbered deaths for the first time since the crisis began six years previously. Elsewhere in Africa, the battle continues.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust works to protect Africa’s threatened wildlife, including elephants. Through the Orphans Project in Nairobi, they rehabilitate injured and orphaned elephants to be released back into the wild. Baby elephants are tended to 24 hours a day by a keeper, which helps them become properly socialized and increases the likelihood of their survival when they’re released back into the wild.
Samburu elephants travel across the landscape, navigating from one area to another through thin strips of land called ‘corridors.’ Their journey through these corridors is often threatened by encounters with humans and vehicles. Inspired by GPS data from Save the Elephants, the Mount Kenya Trust secured the land and funding to build an underpass so elephants could safely travel under this highway.
Samburu National Reserve is a protected area in Northern Kenya, about 6 hours drive from the capital Nairobi. The topography in the reserve ranges from lush riverine forests to dry open savannah to rugged mountains. The Ewaso Nyiro River runs along the Southern boundary of the reserve and is the lifeblood of this area, providing water for people, plants and animals.
Samburu is a high density area for wildlife, with its hot, dry savannah landscape, rugged terrain and nearby river. February and March are the hottest months followed by two rainy seasons during the year. The arid landscape is dotted with dune palm groves, and in the distance you can see the outlines of the Koitogor and Ololokwe mountains.
Visitors come to Samburu to see elephants as well as leopards, lions, giraffes and over 450 species of birds. Unique to this area, Grevy’s zebras are identifiable by their thin stripes, large, round ears and big bodies. On a game drive you might see Somali ostrich, nile crocodiles and large herds of oryx, all of which are desert adapted and prefer hot environments like this one. Explore this place.
Samburu is famous for having one of the best-studied elephant populations in the world. Due to the 20 year legacy of research, local elephants are very trusting and will come right up to vehicles, especially a Save the Elephants research truck. Elephants have exceptional spatial memories and understand the boundaries of the Samburu Reserve, exhibiting noticeably calmer behavior when they are in the protected environment. Explore this place.
Elephants play an important role as landscape engineers in this environment. They help with seed dispersal by eating fruit from trees and then spreading seeds through their dung. Elephants tear the bark off trees, braking down vegetation and causing necessary regrowth and a deeper seed base. In times of drought, they dig holes to find water that are then used by other animals. Elephants have a profound impact on the landscape.
Founded in 1993, Save the Elephants is dedicated to securing a future for elephants and sustaining the ecological integrity of the places they live. Headquartered in Nairobi, STE works across Africa to understand and protect elephants. Their main research camp is in Samburu where they monitor elephants on the ground, in the air and via GPS tracking. They focus on research as the baseline from which to make planning and policymaking decisions and work to improve the relationship between humans and elephants. Explore this place.
In the 1960s a biologist named Iain Douglas-Hamilton began the first behavioural research of wild elephants in Tanzania, using a light aircraft to track and count them. In 1993 he established Save the Elephants, and soon chose the uniquely tame and trusting elephants of Samburu as the subject for a new long-term elephant study. The research conducted in Samburu raises global awareness of the threats to elephants and creates solutions to secure a future for the species.
Not only does Save the Elephants conduct aerial surveys, they also monitor individual elephants using GPS collars. By quickly sedating an elephant, veterinarians place a collar around their neck to track the location of the elephant. This data helps researchers understand how these animals move through the landscape, as well as follow the lives of specific elephants. By analyzing GPS data, Save the Elephants is also able to receive automatic immobility alerts when an elephant has stopped moving. STE has collared 266 elephants across Africa to date.
Save the Elephants was collecting large amounts of data from the GPS collars of elephants, but they needed a way to visualize it. In 2006 they started overlaying their collaring data on the rich digital landscape of Google Earth, allowing for better tracking of elephants' movements. They are now using the computing power of Google Earth Engine to analyze more than five million recorded locations taken from 266 elephants over 17 years.
Elephants travel across the landscape and often encounter roads, houses, farms and people. Human-elephant conflict is a serious issue in the protection of elephants, and one way to keep elephants safe is to provide them safe passage. Inspired by elephant tracking data, this underpass was built to allow elephants to safely navigate under this busy highway. Explore this place.
Poaching is the most serious threat to the survival of Africa's elephants. Elephants are killed for the ivory in their tusks, which is then sold around the world. The killing of older elephants has a devastating effect on family structures and leaves many baby elephants orphaned. Combatting poaching not only requires strict penalties to deter poachers, but a reduction in the consumer demand for ivory products.
The death of an elephant is a cultural loss for the Samburu people. Poaching introduces instability into the lives of those who live alongside elephants, as illegal operatives roam the landscape hunting for ivory. The Northern Rangelands Trust is engaging local people in conservation, converting land into conservancies and creating economic opportunities through tourism, further demonstrating the value of elephants in Samburu.
These rangers are on the front lines of the war against poaching, risking their lives to defend Kenya’s elephants. They receive tips from local people and organizations and then comb the landscape with trained dogs in search of illegal activity. The award-winning work of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Kenya Wildlife Service has helped reduce the number of poached elephants in Northern Kenya down to less than 1% of the overall population, a huge victory in the uphill battle to defend elephants.
When an elephant is poached, what happens to its children? Founded in 1977, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust provides assistance to animals in need, including orphans. At their elephant orphanage in Nairobi, keepers feed and exercise the elephants and make sure they’re properly socialized into the orphan herd. This type of care is critical to raising healthy elephants that can be reintroduced into the wild. The Sheldrick Trust has hand-raised over 180 infant elephants. Explore this place.
In 2012 STE first asked to bring the Street View Trekker to Samburu to capture 360-degree panoramic imagery of elephants in the wild. While not everyone can visit Samburu, anyone can go on an online safari to meet these elephants. By putting elephants at people’s fingertips online, researchers and advocates hope that people will become more connected to elephants and more excited to get involved in securing their future.
Saving elephants in Samburu
Samburu fables speak of a shared ancestry between people and elephants, and for the last 20 years this place has been the home base of Save the Elephants. Discover how their data-driven research has revolutionized conservation of the species.
A message from
I entered a world of wonder 50 years ago when I began studying the elephants of Lake Manyara, Tanzania. My life was forever captured by these magnificent creatures and the great landscapes they live in -- deep forests, vast plains, winding rivers, lakes, volcanoes, and stark lava flows, from bush to desert to soaring mountain heights.
Samburu is one of these landscapes, and for me it is the most precious because I call it home. I'm thrilled to share the place I love on Street View, and let people everywhere roam across elephant range on a voyage of digital discovery. We hope that experiencing this area on Google Maps and Google Earth brings you a deeper understanding of elephants, one that can be translated into action on their behalf.
Elephants, and many other wild animals, need our help. We must allow the splendour of nature to survive alongside us. We brought the Samburu elephants online so people can "meet" them, experience the beauty of their habitat and realize the need for urgent action to protect them. The more we understand the denizens of the natural world, the more we can help them to survive and thrive on this planet. Join us in the fight to protect Africa's elephants.
—Iain Douglas-Hamilton, PhD, CBE
Founder, Save the Elephants
September 15, 2015
Spend time with Save the Elephants
From aerial surveys to GPS collars, STE is one of the foremost elephant research organizations in the world. Meet the group of hard-working scientists and advocates who have dedicated their life to the pursuit of a more secure future for elephants.
Save the Elephants is dedicated to securing a future for elephants, sustaining
the ecological integrity of the places they live, promoting man’s delight in
their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and developing a tolerant
relationship between the two species.
Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa. sheldrickwildlifetrust.org
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is an award-winning catalyst and model for community conservation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Green List of successful protected areas. Lewa is the heart of wildlife conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism in northern Kenya. lewa.org
The Samburu region has been inhabited since the earliest humans, and the local government is dedicated to improving the welfare of the people, animals and geographical landscape of this region. With projects focusing on economy, infrastructure education and wildlife protection, the Samburu government is committed to increasing accessibility and security in the region. samburu.go.ke
KWS is dedicated to saving the last great species and places on earth for
humanity. They work to sustainably conserve, manage, and enhance Kenya's
wildlife, its habitats, and provide a wide range of public uses in collaboration
with stakeholders for posterity.
Google Earth Outreach is a program designed specifically to help non-profit and public benefit organizations around the world leverage the power of Google Earth and Maps to illustrate and advocate for the important work they do. Earth Outreach projects focus on environment, cultural preservation, humanitarian work and more. google.com/earth/outreach