A lifetime with elephants: an interview with Iain Douglas-Hamilton


Iain Douglas-Hamilton has dedicated his life to elephants. “I like elephants because of the way they treat each other,” he says. “They’re very nice to each other most of the time, but not all the time … You see a lot of play…a lot of tender touching, caressing, tactile contact of one sort or another.”

The affection goes both ways. Douglas-Hamilton recalls one curious female who would always approach his vehicle. “Eventually I got so friendly with her that…I could walk with her and feed her the fruits of the wild gardenia tree. That was a very special for me. She eventually brought her babies up to meet me.”

Douglas-Hamilton’s dedication extends to protecting the species from harm, and especially the ivory trade. He calls the current ivory trade “totally unsustainable” and recommends a total ban on the trade. In the 1970s and 1980s, he witnessed how the legal ivory trade decimated elephant herds throughout east Africa. “I then saw the come in [in 1989],” he explains, “and I saw elephants recover for nearly 20 years … The ban worked. The ban worked beautifully … It’s only really been since 2008 [it] has stopped working properly … [That’s when] some partial sales [took] place that stimulated demand that was dormant.”

Infant elephant in . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

African elephant () in the , Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Forest elephant in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Infant elephant in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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