We need to leave the planet a better place says conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton
Wildlife film-maker Saba Douglas-Hamilton talks about how motherhood reinvigorated her conservation passion and the challenges the planet’s facing ahead of talks in the region.
When she was in her 20s, Saba found conservation very depressing; a never ending series of uphill, losing battles.
“I don’t think I had the same robustness I have now and the experience perhaps to see the long-term picture of conservation, to understand one goes through these cycles where it’s very hard but through effort things get better,” says the wildlife conservationist and TV presenter.
Becoming a mother re-ignited the spark first kindled by her zoologist father, Iain, who studied elephants in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda while she was growing up. It was he who discovered it was the ultimate matriarchal society, and not as people had assumed.
“When you become a mother you become a lot more ferocious. Like a matriarch, you’ll put yourself between your children and danger. If I can do that through my every day work, that’s something I feel very strongly about,” says the mother-of-three, loving the rain during a spell back in England.
“We’re going through a pretty horrific drought in Kenya. Whenever it rains we’re out there trying to get raindrops on our heads and in our mouths... my children strip off and go running out naked in the rain, screaming with joy. We [she and her conservationist and journalist husband Frank Pope] pretty much do the same, depending on who’s watching,” she laughs.
“After I had children I think one’s priorities shift normally. I just realised there was just only one thing, which was to get back into conservation. At the end of the day that’s about creating the kind of planet we want to live on tomorrow... how do we make sure we all do our bit to try to leave the planet a better, safer healthier place, for our children, for all species.”
One issue is the increasing human population; not just in Africa but around the world.
Prince William raised the issue wile speaking at the Tusk gala dinner recently, warning wildlife was under threat and we had to work much harder and think much deeper if we’re to ensure humans and other species with which we share the planet can continue to coexist.
“As an environmentalist I only intended to have two children but the second time I had twins,” says Saba, bringing her new tour - A Life With Elephants - to Ipswich Corn Exchange November 21 and Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University November 24.
“There’s a lot of different things happening at the same time, it’s a perfect storm in a way. Probably the single driving factor behind it all [the challenges facing conservationists] is human population, not just Africa but all over the world; then it’s increased consumerism and increased impact from that which is the driving force behind absolutely everything... It’s one of the biggest issues to tackle, it’s the hot potato people don’t want to talk about.
“We really need do need start levelling out population-wise. It makes a lot of sense to invest in less children and bring them up well, healthy, educate them, love them, nourish them, raise them to be a conscious, wonderful, young human being who can contribute in the own way back to the planet all well and good. What I find difficult is surely it’s better to practise birth control than to bring another child into the world that you don’t want?
“In this day and age we really can’t have a lot of children, it’s becoming pretty unethical actually. It’s all fine and good to keep breeding like rabbits but what kind of future does that leave our children?”
At the end of the day we’ve all got to take responsibility for our impact on the planet says Saba, the question is where do we start. Her first job was with the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, working in the hinterland of the Skeleton Coast on a Crafts for Conservation project. She later joined her father’s charity Save the Elephants to help develop its research centre in Samburu National Reserve, north Kenya. It was there she was talent-spotted by the BBC and began her life as a TV presenter and producer of wildlife documentaries.
Film-making was her way of bringing her strength as a storyteller and her passion for wildlife to share the amazing world that’s out there.
“It’s very simple, it’s about small little changes you make at home - turning the lights off, eating less meat, recycling, lobbying your MP, trails for wildlife to move through your garden,” says the This Wild Life and Big Cat Diaries presenter.
“It seems minute but it’s the accumulative effect of a sweep of people doing the same that becomes a very powerful force for change and one must ever underestimate how powerful one is as an individual. We can’t wait for other people to fix the problem it comes down to us, that’s the bottom line.”
Saba describes herself as a ‘get her hands dirty and get on with it fix it’ type of person. She says goings-on in countries that shall not be named are a timely wake-up call to the liberal world that if you don’t stand up for what you believe, you risk losing everything previous generations fought for and won.
Apathy was once the status quo. Events now are catalysing people to start taking politics, the environment, climate change, rapid landscape degradation, the impact of rogue capitalism seriously - bringing an end to what she hopes is a short blip in the planet’s long-term future.
“There’s also growing environmental consciousness which is becoming more embedded in our every day culture, the way we think and do things... we need to speed that process up and start getting on board this idea that we live on a finite planet and we have to do things within its means.”
A Life With Elephants features lots of pictures taken by Saba’s family and other wildlife photographers over the decades.
“They’re very intelligent, very emotional, such social animals, there are complex and intricate relationships that exist between them; they’re very like us in so many ways and I think that’s what makes them so interesting,” says Saba, whose name means seven in Kiswahili as she was born in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley at 7pm on the seventh day of the week, becoming the seventh grandchild in the family. “There are some fun clips from the different films I’ve done and out-takes. Then a nice chunk of time as well for a Q and A. That’s my favourite part, seeing what people have picked up, what interested them and that sparks a whole other conversation. It’s a lively evening; fun, quite moving and nicely interactive.”