Books / Life with Elephants

Living with elephants

By james watson, Wednesday Oct 11, 2017

Saba Douglas-Hamilton’s life has certainly not been a dull one. At six weeks old she came into contact with her first elephant, called Virgo, who was introduced to her by her father Iain. Iain had been studying for his PhD in Tanzania. “He really wanted to study lions, but they’d been taken,” she explained.

“However, he was told  that there was a herd of elephants in the Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania, which were destroying the trees and it wasn’t understood why, so he was asked to look at them. It turns out elephants are much more interesting than lions; they can display complex emotions such as empathy, and have similar characteristics to humans, with a real need for society, just like us.” Saba’s father became the first person to properly study African elephants in the wild.

Saba was brought up alongside her father’s research, and went to school in Nairobi. Now, her three children are being brought up at the family’s eco-lodge in Kenya. “As a parent, one has to make particular choices about how to bring up one’s children,” she said. “I’m taking this decision – it’s a bit of a gamble – but I’m quite happy with the results.”

As you might expect from someone who had such an upbringing, and who is a TV presenter and producer of wildlife documentaries for the BBC, Saba is incredibly passionate about the environment. “People need to move out of their general complacency, and thinking that everything’s going to be alright – it’s not going to be alright unless we do something about it,” she says frankly.

I ask what she thinks about some of the small steps taken, like charging 5p for plastic bags here in the UK. “It’s good,” she says. “Kenya has just banned plastic bags, and it has become almost a criminal offence to carry one. If everybody just takes small steps to make a difference, then it can be a very powerful force for change.”

Speaking to Saba was a great reminder of some of the fantastic work people do to help better our world. My final question asked what she thought the most important thing she learned from the wild had been. “Respect and gentleness,” was her reply. “One must tread softly and nurture the wild world around us, because at the end of the day it’s the fabric of life upon which we depend for our existence.”

Saba Douglas-Hamilton’s Life with Elephants tour comes to 1532 Performing Arts Centre on Nov 9. To find out more or book tickets, visit

Latest articles