The Ramblings Of An Egg Chaser

Welcome to my blog on all things rugby related, my views are my own except where the voices in my head tell me otherwise.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Protecting The Herd

This is a tale about Elephants, Samurai, Rugby 7s and a Welshman, which is in all honesty not an opening line I ever expected to write.  I am going to assume for the purpose of brevity that you are capable of telling each of them apart.  If not I suggest you take a crash course in geography and zoology, watch the match between Japan and New Zealand in the 1995 RWC, take a trip to Melrose in Scotland and buy some industrial strength lubricant.

This story begins in Kenya with Samurai 7s having just won the Safari 7s in Nairobi for the second year in a row.  They had beaten a young England team in the quarters, Western Province in the semi and finally a very talented Kenya team 20-19 in the final. We'd celebrated in style following the obligatory court session and put away more than a few beers.  Players from 7 nations who had come together in less than a week to play and win at 6000' above sea level in what is undoubtedly one of the toughest tournaments in the world, that isn't on the World Sevens Series, enjoying the spoils of victory & back to back wins at the Safari 7s.

The next day, before we flew home, I had arranged for the squad to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and their orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi in the Nairobi National Park.  A good friend of mine who has, in my opinion, the best job in the world as a safari guide had put us in touch with Lina Sideras.  Lina is one of the amazing people running the orphanage and was delighted to have us join the public visit that day.  What we didn't expect was when Angela Sheldrick herself came out to say hello and then talk rugby with us!  As it turns out her sons Roan and Taru are rugby mad and she wanted to hear all about the tournament and the win over Kenya.  She must have taken a shine to us  for some, still unfathomable, reason because we were invited on a private tour to meet the orphans and other residents up close and personal.  Maxwell the Black Rhino who was born blind and taken in by the Sheldrick family was a big favourite as was Kiko the young Giraffe who got on famously with players Glen Rolls & Pierre Peres.  

We then got a real treat, Edwin the senior keeper, allowed us to walk in with the herd of Elephants at the orphanage.  It was an unbelievable privilege to walk with such beautiful and intelligent animals and something none of us will ever forget!  I even got to meet Kauro an elephant that my wife and I had adopted personally some time before whilst on honeymoon.  I learnt that Elephants recognise you by scent and that by blowing gently on the end of their trunk is how they identify individuals.  

Elephants, Edwin, Samurai & Angela Sheldrick 2015
Angela, Lina and Edwin told us how each of the orphans came to be in their care and of the perilous lives that these incredible animals are forced to live due to the superstitions and greed of the most barbaric and vicious species on the planet: homo sapiens.  The statistics were shocking then and have got even worse after the Elephant Census carried out Africa wide this year showing a 30% drop in the Savannah Elephent population in under ten years.  My youngest brother, the ecologist, expanded on the scope of this pending disaster when I returned home by explaining the role Elephants play in the ecosystem as Keystones Species.  Their impending demise will be bad for everyone and everything and unless the main culprits, man, change their behaviour quickly then the situation looks grim.
iWorry - An Elephant Is Killed In Africa Every 15 Minutes By Poachers
We sat there on the coach back to the hotel and you could almost hear the players thinking about what they had just seen and just been told.  As bloody usual it was a Welshman called Luke Crocker who, in his own inimitable style, started the ball rolling.  "We could make a difference here, not a big difference but a real difference"  Not the most elegant of statements but we understood what he meant.   As he spoke I sat there thinking about how I had won the Amsterdam 7s, the GB 7s Series and the Safari 7s with Luke that year.  He had skippered us in Nairobi and played despite being laid low with a stomach bug, "Shitting through the eye of a needle" as he put it, he had led the team from the front to that hard fought victory over the Kenyan team in the final.  He had simply been immense all year, all those victories and dedication to the Samurai cause, but in that moment I had never been more proud of him.  Don't get me wrong, for me rugby and winning at rugby are important.  Very important in fact as my wife will tell you at great length with a long suffering look of exasperation on her face.  However it turned out, much to my surprise, that there are a few things in life that are significantly more important.

Samurai In With The Herd 2016
I should probably warn you that I actually don't know a great deal.  To be fair this probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me particularly well as I was once told by one of my lecturers my attitude to learning in his class was "somewhat casual".   A brief summary of what I do know includes "Trilobites look a lot like Woodlice" (Zoology & Palaentology 101, a great course you should do it), Gin & Tonic is definitely medicinal, that you should never eat anything bigger than your own head and you shouldn't sleep with anyone you cannot bench press.  I also know that if you are given the opportunity to do something that can make a positive difference then, like with a rugby ball, you should take it in both hands and run with it. 

There are endless quotes and sound bites on the subject of "making a difference" but two of them from very different sources have always resonated with me.  As we headed back to the hotel, with the players discussing Elephants around me, I played them over and over again in my head wondering how we could make a difference in something that was a global problem.  The first has been used by many different people over the years but the version I had heard was from world renowned conservationist Jane Goodall:

"The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves"

The second was from my childhood, one of Aesop's Fables told to me by my parents, probably after I had committed yet another heinous act of childish villainy and in the vain hope of keeping me from continuing to turn into the sort of nightmare child every parent must dread.

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." 

Elephant Mural At DSWT
The one from Aesop gave us a little perspective.  We weren't hugely wealthy, we weren't influential enough to change the minds of all the terrible people driving the market in animal parts and we weren't scientists who could come up with an ingenious solution to the huge problems of human animal conflict but we could still help where we could.   It meant we could contribute enough to make a difference to individual orphans and the team that looked after them. That, to us, seemed like a cause worth taking on and one with which we could make a real difference.  So, before we left Kenya, we contacted the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and adopted an orphan called Simotua who had suffered terribly at the hands of poachers and was recovering from a spear wound to the head and a snare wound to his leg.  We also spoke about how we could, and the Kenyan players like Sammy Oliech in particular, could help raise awareness of the situation and of the work being done by the likes of the DSWT.  Crocker also suggested that we take on some elements of the DSWT in our playing kit next year, specifically the elephant mural painted at the orphanage, and call it the "Tembo Shirt".

Terry Sands & Ambo
Simotua (b.2014 d.2016)
The main man at Samurai, Terry Sands, also got involved and after he had visited the orphanage later that year Samurai International RFC adopting another young orphan called Ambo following the tragic news that little Simotua had, despite a brave fight, succumbed to his injuries.  He also agreed to design a shirt based on the DSWT mural for the Samurai 7s team to wear at the tournament in 2016.  Samurai Sportswear would also produce a replica shirt from which the proceeds would go to the DSWT.  The shirts would be accompanied by a social media campaign supported by the whole Samurai Family including the likes of Mike Friday the former Kenya 7s coach.  The shirts went down a storm with the Samurai 7s players constantly being asked for their shirts while on tour.  We hope that the sale of replicas generates a decent amount of money for the DSWT so, plug time, if you fancy buying one click here.  

And yes, my nieces and nephews can all expect one for Christmas.
The Tembo Shirt

So fast forward to the Safaricom 7s in 2016, three of the players from 2015 had made the selection for this year's Samurai team.  Sadly Luke Crocker could not get released by Cardiff to play but Scotland International Michael Fedo and Spanish Olympians Paco Hernandez and Ignacio Martins travelled once again to Kenya to compete at the Safari 7s.

Samurai International - Runners Up At Safari 7s 2016
Our aim was, as usual, to make the cup final of the competition and be in with a chance of winning it.  We also discussed at our first team meeting our aims with regards to raising awareness for the DSWT and talked about the impact we hoped we could have in raising awareness for their work.  We knew that for every game we won at the tournament the chances increased that more people would start talking about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  This meant they were more likely to make a donation to the DSWT that could fund milk for an orphan elephant to keep them alive, it might fund equipment for the amazing rangers, keepers and anti poaching teams that are working day in day out to prevent the extinction of one of the most important species on the planet and it would fund the reintegration of the orphans back into wild breeding herds which was vital for long term species survival.

Samurai & Kenya 2016
So what has been achieved?  Sadly we haven't magically solved the problems facing the African Savannah Elephant but we did get the chance to raise awareness of the problems they face.  We gave exposure to the DSWT on national television (Zuku Sports) and in the Kenyan press and we answered questions from local school children about our kit and the Trust.  It is vital to continue the process of educating the children and people of Kenya because how we manage the areas of conflict between Man and Elephant as communities grow and expand moving forward is vital to the survival of the Elephant in it's natural habitat.  I also hope that by writing this and you in turn reading it I might have convinced you to take action to help change the destructive course our species is set on.  I hope that you might choose to donate to assist the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust or use one of their eco-tourism retreats for what is an incredible experience in Kenya (trust me on this they are truly amazing places).  Of course they aren't the only organisation involved in this work so you may well find your own cause or charity to help and champion.  The bottom line is that the more of us using our voice to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves then the greater chance we have of stopping species like Elephants becoming extinct.  It also means we get to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything possible to prevent these incredible creatures from becoming nothing more than a photograph in a book or a mural on a wall.  Oh and we lost 38-21 in the final to Kenya in a great match played in a tremendous spirit.  2 Safari 7s wins from 3 cup finals in 3 years isn't so bad I guess.

Samurai International At DSWT 2016
So looking briefly to the future we are looking forward to returning to Kenya in 2017 to win back our trophy.  We will once again use that privileged opportunity to highlight the plight of the African Elephant and of the incredible work done by the likes of Angela Sheldrick and her team at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

We will speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

And we will #ProtectTheHerd

PS, They do look similar.



PPS, The Team Lists

Samurai 7s 2015

Ignacio Martins, Paco Hernandez, Glen Rolls (Spain), Pierre Peres (France), Youness Hou (Maroc), Oscar Ouma, Felix Ayange, Sammy Oliech (Kenya), Luke Crocker, Elliot Frewen (Wales), Michael Fedo (Scotland), Sam Isaacs (England)

Samurai 7s 2016

Ignacio Martins, Paco Hernandez (Spain), Michael Fedo, Scott Wight, James Fleming, Dougie Fife, Jimmy Johnstone, Darren Gillespie, Nick McLennan (Scotland), Patrice Agunda, Churchill Ooko, Dan Sikuta (Kenya), John Dawes (England)

PPPS, Yeah another plug to buy a shirt & help raise money for the DSWT by clicking here

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