email a friend iconprinter friendly iconSaving Kenya's Elephants
Page [ 5 ] of 12

Wall is in some ways a 21st-century incarnation of Douglas-Hamilton. Like his mentor, Wall is happier in the bush than behind a desk and seeks out extreme experiences: Prior to starting his work with Save the Elephants, he lived in voluntary exile at Cape Bounty, a remote scientific installation far above the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, Canada. Projects like the Shadrack expedition are as rough-and-tumble—and mediagenic—as science gets. A generation of nature-doc viewers has marveled at photos and video of the handsome Douglas-Hamilton. It wouldn’t surprise me if Wall, who looks like a more rugged Prince William, someday assumes the same sort of public-scientist role currently played by the Leakeys and Goodalls and Douglas-Hamiltons of the world.

Over the roar of the prop, Douglas-Hamilton tells Wall that he wishes he could come along on this expedition, that he would have loved to, were he younger. It’s an unprecedented undertaking, he says, and the challenges aren’t purely geographic. Hidden between the rocks, or in the patches of thick bush, we might come across lethal puff adders, charging buffalo, even other streaking elephants. At one point, Douglas-Hamilton wings the plane over to take a closer look at a particularly nasty-looking stretch of lava rocks. "I’m not sure it’s possible to cross that," he says.

Wall, not yet 30, tries not to let Douglas-Hamilton’s skepticism eat away at his confidence. Still, it can’t help but have an effect. He looks away from the window, with its view of rocks and rocks and rocks rolling on ad nauseam.

Then he opens up a white paper bag, leans forward, and does something perfectly understandable.

***

It’s dusk, the first night of our trek, and our team of eight has been walking for several hours. I’m leading the second of our five camels. Ahead of me David Daballen, Save the Elephants’ chief field researcher, leads the first. Daballen probably knows more about elephant behavior than anyone here. He’s Kenyan and, like Shadrack, grew up near Mount Marsabit. He owns property there, a bucolic mountain-slope plot, though he’s had to give up cultivating mangoes because elephants keep barging in and eating them all. At the very front of our group, Teteya Daballen, David’s brother, leads the way in a patterned skirt, his G3 assault rifle slung over his shoulder on a Diesel-logo-emblazoned gun strap. Teteya is also in charge of our two goats. A little while ago I briefly took charge of the goats, but Teteya relieved me of my duties after I let them stray too close to the camels, causing a panicky, grunting, bucking, cargo-strewing explosion. You might wonder why, if camels and goats don’t mix, we’re bringing them along. Simple: Goats taste good.

We are not yet on Shadrack’s route. In fact, we’ve already had to abandon the original plan of reaching our first waypoint, as there turned out to be a camel-proof canyon between us and there. Instead, we’re shooting for one of Shadrack’s waypoints several miles to the south. To get there, we have to cut across six miles of bush. The going is tough. Aptly named wait-a-bit bushes grab us in painful embraces as we walk by. Sometimes it takes a minute or two to pry their barbed fingers from our flesh and clothing before progress can resume.

Page [ 5 ] of 12
Join the discussion

National Geographic Adventure is pleased to provide this opportunity for you to share your comments about this article. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Recent Comments
  • Brilliant photographs especially the night time ones. It is inspiring in a very astounding way.
  • Great article, wonderful photos. I wish I could take part in something like this someday. They are…
  • Amazing, inspiring.
Read All »