Anne herself swings daintily out of the brush. She steps toward Douglas-Hamilton. The gap between them is 50 feet. For a few seconds the young female graces him with a frontal view of her large forehead, her flappy ears, her pretty tusks, as though posing for beauty shots in the glow of a flash. She gives him a profile. He raises his camera and clicks off several frames. Then she too turns and ambles away. Through his lens, in those seconds, he has seen that the collar hangs just as it should. The alarm was a false one. Anne is in no danger—or anyway, no danger of chafing or choking.
As we withdraw, circling back toward our vehicle, I think: So that's how it's done. Show a little caution, a little respect, get the information you need, back off. And everybody is happy. After four decades Douglas-Hamilton knows this species about as well as anyone in Africa. He has a keen sense, well earned by field study and sharpened by love, of the individuality of the animals—their volatile moods, their subtle signals, their range of personalities and impulses. Nothing about his interaction with Anne has prepared me for the moment, some weeks later, when I'll watch him charged, caught, thrown, and nearly tusked through the gut by an elephant.
SOON WE'RE ALOFT again in Douglas-Hamilton's Cessna, flying low over the contours of the landscape. It's his preferred style, flying low; why go up a thousand feet when you can caress the topography? So we rise and descend gently over the rocky slopes, the ridges, the dry acacia plains, the sand rivers, returning northeast toward a place called Samburu National Reserve. Just beyond the reserve sits a gravel airstrip and, not far from that, his field camp. We'll be home before dark.
Samburu National Reserve is one of the little known jewels of northern Kenya, taking its name from the proud tribe of warriors and pastoralists in which David Daballen, among others, has his roots. The reserve is a relatively small area, just 65 square miles of semiarid savanna, rough highlands, dry washes (known locally as luggas), and riparian forests of acacia and doom palm along the north bank of the Ewaso Ngiro River. Lacking paved roads, sparsely surrounded by Samburu herders, it teems with wildlife. There are lions, leopards, and cheetahs, of course, but also Grevy's zebras, reticulated giraffes, beisa oryx, gerenuks, Somali ostriches, kori bustards, and a high diversity of showy smaller birds such as wattled starlings, pin-tailed whydahs, and lilac-breasted rollers. But the dominant creatures are the elephants. They play a major role in shaping the ecosystem itself—stripping bark from trees or uprooting them, keeping the savanna open. They intimidate even the lions. They come and go across the boundaries of the reserve, using it as a safe haven from human-related dangers in a much larger and more ambivalent landscape.