By Hannah S. Ostroff
Sheryl Mays is on a quest to save African elephants, one step at a time.
She and her partner Peter Ordonez are gearing up for a trip to northern Kenya, where they will walk 10 to 15 miles per day in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the plight of elephants in that region.
The trek, named “100 Miles for Elephants,” is organized by the Earth Elephant Initiative and Space for Giants, two groups that seek to improve the lives of the large animals. All of the funds raised from Mays’ walk will benefit Space for Giants, and will go to training, equipment and salaries for anti-poaching scouts.
Poaching is a serious problem facing elephants in that area, but an increase in scouts on the ground has proven effective. Between January and October 2013, Space For Giants has recorded a 64 percent decline in the number of elephants illegally killed in the Laikipia region of Kenya.
It takes about $300 to provide provisions for one ranger all year. With a goal of $4,000, Mays hopes to be able to support 10 or more rangers in the field.
She said Space for Giants, who partners with the Kirisia Community Forestry Association – comprised of elders in the communities in Laikipia – also provides jobs in the community and helps to mitigate human-elephant conflict.
Mays and Ordonez live in Williamsburg, and Mays works at Historic Jamestowne. She said she has always had an affection for elephants, drawn to their intelligence and caring tendencies. After years of learning more, and making small monthly donations to their cause, she wanted to be an active participant.
“At this stage of my life, I feel like I can give money, but I wanted to do something — actually physically do something that might matter,” Mays said.
Mays has been training by walking 5 to 7 miles per day, breaking in shoes and mentally preparing for the heat and tough terrain.
“We’re not walking on roads,” she said.
For the first part of their journey in early February, Mays and Ordonez will be traveling over plains, then through hills and forest, with local guides and a team of camels carrying gear and tents. They will meet villagers and learn about the region’s culture and way of life.
After the 100 miles are covered, they will visit an elephant orphanage and rehabilitation camp, where Mays is excited for the chance to interact with young elephants.
The trip, she said, is not just about the distance, but also an effort to raise consciousness on the problem of poaching and its threat to the future of wild elephants. Toward that end, Mays is also interested in sharing her experience with the community. She hopes to meet with children and school groups to discuss what she has learned about Africa and the project to protect elephants.
To learn more, or to make a donation to Mays’ “100 Miles for Elephants” journey, click here. Contact Mays at email@example.com for any additional information or to schedule a talk.