Elephant Matters in London
Eine elefantöse Reise nach London
I spontaneously decided to travel to London when I read about the film screening of "The Elephant who Loved too much" and the presence of Benjamin. So I spent some days in London which were full of interesting experiences - many of them elephant-related.
The first subject, however, had nothing to do with elephants, however, was special, too: I was picked up from the airport by Gareth, my longtime colleague in the UK. I have known him since my first time in the company in which I am still working (that was in 1984), and he is retired now. It was great to meet again and to catch up on many things. We also had a relaxed walk along the Thames in Richmond and sat in a nice restaurant at its banks.
To my surprise I saw some Egyptian Geese at the banks of River Thames - until now I only knew these geese from Kenya. Now I learnt that they indeed originate from Africa but had been imported to Europe, specially to the UK, in the 18th century due to its rather colourful plumage. By the way, the Egyptian Goose has its firm place in Pharaonic myths about how the world was created, too.
This time in London I stayed in a hotel of a style I like very much:
An old english building, Hotel Russell.
I love such precious old interior (and exterior) and really enjoyed the atmosphere.
My room was small, but all things I really appreciate were available (a writing desk, WiFi, tea making devices…)
Next day in the morning I made my way through the small park at Russell Square and went to the famous British Museum.
It was not my first stay in that museum, but every time I love to see the architecture of the building - this combination of ancient and modern.
I went there for the special exhibition 'Mummy: The Inside Story / Ancient Lives: New Discoveries' which was quite interesting. 8 mummies of all ages and periods of Ancient Egypt with their specialities, visualized by modern 3D-scans.
As usual, I could not resist and have a look at the standard exhibition of Ancient Egypt, too. Each time again I adore the beautiful faces, specially those of the New Kingdom.
And as usual in this museum there were a lot of visitors - loud visitors. Tourists who only strolled through the museum as it was one item in their list of must-sees. It was not possible to look at the objects and contemplate them in quiet.
However, it comforted me that there were a lot of pupils, too, who eagerly took notes and fotos of the exhibits which means they were really interested in them (at least for the moment).
After seeing the exhibitions, I fell prey to the museum shops. Those shops are really great! They have a lot of things that seduce me. However, the prices are so high that I was somehow relieved when I finally was able to decide leaving the museum.
This afternoon my friend Claudia arrived to London, and in the evening together we joined the cinema event for which I had come to London:
In Mayfair, Curzon Street, there was an exclusive screening of the film "The elephant who loved too much" which tells the story of tiny elephant orphan Aisha and her relation to Daphne Sheldrick who took care for her.
After we had all taken our seats in the cinema, Rob Brandford, the director of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust UK, came on stage and after welcoming the audience, he read for us the message from Dame Daphne personally. I have to add that the cinema event had been iniciated on that day as it was her 80th birthday. Dame Daphne was celebrating it in Nairobi with her family, but this cinema event in London was honouring her birthday, too, and her 80 years full of dedication to wildlife.
Then the film was shown. Aisha's story is really touching, as this little elephant loved Daphne so much that it died when Daphne was away for a while for her daughter's marriage. This tragic story was embraced with beautiful fotos of Daphne and this charming little elephant, and intermediate clips of Daphne today, speaking of her relation to Aisha, but also speaking about the consequences of Aisha's death for a new approach on orphan upbringing.
When the lights went on after this film, I am sure many of us (me, too!) were grabbing in our pockets for handkerchiefs.
Then Rob entered the stage again, this time in company with Katy Ashworth from BBC who also supports the trust, and Benjamin
Kyalo, Head Keeper of the Ithumba Rehabilitation Unit for the elephant orphans in Kenia. Although London must have been exciting for Benjamin, as it was his first visit to Europe at all, he was
calm and relaxed on the stage, as he usually is with his elephants in Ithumba as well. He was there for a Q&A session - and there were a lot of questions from the audience. He was telling
inspiring stories about his time in the bush and with the elephants, - everybody listening closely. The essence of his attitude to elephants, wildlife and his profession was obvious in his words
'I love my job.'
After a long applause we were all gathering in the cinema bar.
We could meet Benjamin there, and I think he was happy to see several faces which he already knew from people who had already visited Ithumba before. It was very nice meeting Benjamin again, and being able to ask urgent questions about certain elephants. Additionally, it was especially wonderful to meet some Facebook friends whom we met in person for the first time. We were all happy to be in the company of likeminded people who love elephants and want to help them.
It was an inspiring evening!
Next day there was another elephant attraction in London: A special exhibition about mammoths in the Natural History Museum. It was very interesting to see illustrations about the development of the many elephant types who lived on earth before our time.
There was a complete mammoth skeleton - and a complete mammoth baby mummy.
It is the only complete and best conserved mammoth ever found, and it is quite a feeling to be able to still see the hair and the little trunk and the ears of this baby 42,000 years after it had been living on this earth. The baby had been named Lyuba by scientists.
Elephants are a species which has been living, in many forms, on our planet for thousands and thousands of years - and now we humans are about to kill the rest of the living few elephants on earth within a wink of a moment's time.
From Natural History Museum it is not far to reach Harrods, the famous department store. For my Egypt-loving mind the hall for the sales of bags is always the most attractive because of its egyptian-like design.
Later on our stroll through the city included Piccadilly Circus and China Town. I have never been to China Town before, so this was something new for me and reminded me strongly of the city of Shanghai where I had been several years ago.
Next day we met with one of our newly personally-known Facebook friends, Belinda, and we spent a wonderful day together. It started with a lunch in a famous, cosy French restaurant where we could chat extensively for the first time. By the way: The soufflé was great!
After enough chatting we took the tube to Tower Hill as we intended to see the Ivory House which I had recently heard of. Ivory House is a warehouse, mainly built for the ivory trade in 1858. The UK ivory trade at that time was at its century's peak with nearly 200 tons of ivory which covered its huge floors annually. (In 19th century up to 500 t have been imported to the UK each year.) The building was restored in 1973 and nowadays houses high-end luxury apartments and a mixture of shops and restaurants.
The house is still standing in St. Katharine Docks, and we could see it from afar when we came to the docks. First of all, the ships and boats lying in this dock caught our attention, and we took a lot of fotos.
Then we even detected a ship with the name 'Lady Daphne' which of course reminded us of Dame Daphne Sheldrick.
When we finally made our way around the dock, we could have a better look at ivory house - and were surprised that it was not only beleaguered by luxury motor boats but also by something that looked like a royal barge!
Indeed the sign told us that the name of the boat is Gloriana, and it was the Queen's rowbarge! That was a nice surprise, and we enjoyed the unusual view very much.
From the dock we could even see Tower Bridge, the sun was shining, and there was a small park to sit, so we spent some relaxed time enjoying the surroundings.
At last we got thirsty and drank our afternoon tea in one of the small cafés of Ivory House.
On our way back we made a short excursion to Tower Bridge which I hadn't seen since school times, as during my more recent London trips I had not come to this area.
For our dinner, Belinda already had her plan with us: She knew we like chinese food, and she brought us to a place where the best Peking duck in town is served: The Grand Imperial in Victoria.
I liked this place very much for its beautiful design - black and white with some dark red ornaments - again a place where an old, traditional building is combined with modern, very suitable design. And I can tell you: The Peking duck was delicious!
After this long, interesting day, there was only one more day left in London, and we spent it in Wimbledon, and again, for elephants.
At the windmill in Wimbledon, the 'Enormous Elephant Run' took place, organized by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust UK, and again Benjamin would take part in this event. It was a big fundraising event, and Claudia and me had offered our help to the Trust.
When we arrived, we were familiarized with our job in the baggage drop tent and introduced ourselves to Barbara, the 3rd lady in our team.
When we were preparing everything, rain started to pour down like a river from the sky. I was really sorry for the runners because they would become soaked wet, and the lawn slowly turned into something like a shallow lake.
Nevertheless, the mascots and the runners stayed tough and dressed in their elephants suits in a good mood. I really admired them because I found the weather horrible.
Luckily, however, the rain became lighter and lighter and finally stopped - just in time for the warming-up of the runners!
Then the countdown started for the first runners who did the 10 km run, second were those for the 5 km run.
Unbelievably, the sun came out, and the runners could even enjoy their rounds, applauded and cheered by their family and friends.
But I am sure that all of them were even more happy when they reached the finish where they received congratulations, a medal, some water - and a banana!
I was especially delighted by a man standing at the finish line who greeted every runner with a firmly pronounced 'well done!'. I could not have agreed more.
Also Benjamin made his run and was welcomed happily.
But Benjamin also admitted that although he enjoyed his time in the UK, he was already longing for his elephants in Kenya and was happy to return home soon.
In the end, Rob and Amie gave a big thank you to all the (many!) volunteers.
It really had been a great event - it was big fun to see so many motivated people who were aimed at helping elephants and who had a lot of fun in doing so.
Our time in London ended with a last visit to a beautiful restaurant (this time a Thai one) - where we were lucky seeing a sailing regatta passing by.
So my stay in London ended at the banks of River Thames - just like it began.
It has been a very nice and remarkable stay with so many, different experiences.
My special thanks go to Belinda who made our stay so lovely and comfortable. She showed us many nice restaurants in London, has been a very kind company and took good care of us! I am sure that the cats in her care cannot feel better than we did.
- June 2014 -