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Surviving floods, droughts, and poachers' bullets to save elephants

For four decades Iain Douglas-Hamilton has been an advocate for elephants, the endangered giants of Africa.

Save the Elephants cofounder Iain Douglas-Hamilton has been named the 2010 recipient of the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Four decades ago, he pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior, which revealed their matriarchal society.

The Indianapolis Prize

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When Iain Douglas-Hamilton first started studying elephants in Africa, he had to invent ways of tracking the giant mammals. Over the course of 40-some years in the field, the zoologist learned how to fly airplanes and use radio collars and other high-tech means to follow their movements.

He also learned how to get out of the way – fast. "I learned how to climb trees very quickly," says Dr. Douglas-Hamilton, winner of the 2010 Indianapolis Prize, the largest prize ($100,000) given for animal conservation in the world.

As cofounder of the nonprofit group Save the Elephants, he also has learned to be an activist, author, and politician.

When Douglas-Hamilton left Tanzania, in East Africa, in 1970 to study at Oxford University in Britain, he left behind "an elephants' paradise," he recalls.

But when he returned in 1972, the country's national parks looked more like a war zone. Douglas-Hamilton often found more dead elephants than live ones.

"Never in all our wildest dreams did the small group of scientists who worked in Tanzania's national parks [in the 1960s] imagine that men armed with automatic weapons would one day stride through the national parks. It was just not in our thinking," he says of the heavily armed poachers who had moved in.

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