I was 16 when I saw my first African elephant. We were driving down a Kenyan track when out of nowhere appeared a six-tonne elephant. Our driver slammed on the breaks and stalled the engine. The bull charged towards us before stopping in a cloud of red dust.
For a moment he stared down at us. Then he suddenly turned and vanished into the surrounding forest. I remember thinking, “Did that just happen?” For that is the thing about elephants: their size makes them difficult to comprehend.
Even now, I am still in awe of them. But I am no longer afraid of elephants as I was then. In recent years – as Africa’s elephants have been hunted in increasing numbers for their ivory – I become afraid for them.
It is why I am so grateful for all the support we have received from The Independent readers. Half a million pounds is a staggering amount of money – and it will make a staggering contribution to protecting elephants in East Africa.
We can now train and support new anti-poaching teams and implement the training programmes that will build the capacity of the Kenyan judiciary to apply its new wildlife laws. We can support the establishment of a 65,000-acre wildlife conservancy and wildlife corridor. Independent readers have helped make 2014 the year when hopefully the tide against poaching can be turned.
I would like to thank everyone at this newspaper who has worked so hard to force this issue into the public consciousness. I would like to thank Evgeny Lebedev, The Independent’s owner, who has supported this campaign at every stage and, in his visits to see our work in Kenya, demonstrated again and again his commitment to the conservation cause.
Above all, however, I would like to thank you for giving so generously. If any of you find yourself in Kenya please do come and see what we are now able to do to protect elephants from our HQ in Laikipia. It would be a privilege to be able to demonstrate what can now be done, and to express our appreciation in person.