Saba Douglas-Hamilton joins Chris Watson to explore the soundscape of Kenya for BBC World Service

Chris Watson
Chris Watson has been joined by Saba Douglas-Hamilton to explore the Kenyan soundscape. Photo: Gavin Thurson

In the first of four radio programmes, wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson guides listeners on an audio journey across the great savannah wilderness of the Masai Mara in Kenya with conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton.

“From the moment “you wake up in the morning …you become aware of sounds, the sounds of Africa“,  Saba says, describing the soundscape which is filled with the sounds of the wildlife and the elements.

Sound is used by animals to communicate with one another, to attract a mate, and warn off predators. Being able to interpret this soundscape is as important to the animals who live here as the people.

Saba explains that from a very young age she had been aware of the changing soundscape around her. And as we discover, for both Saba and local Masai Jackson Looseyia, being able to identify the individual sounds in this changing soundscape is crucial to their survival.

Saba Iassa Douglas-Hamilton with an elephant in Samburu National Reserve
Saba Iassa Douglas-Hamilton with an elephant in Samburu National Reserve (Photo: Njoks)

One example of this is the ability to recognise the alarm calls of a bird when a predator is nearby.

As well as the wildlife, the sounds of the wind and the rain, the latter which Saba explains “means life”, fill the audio landscape as vast herds of wildebeest follow the rains on their annual cycle in search of food.

We also hear about the signature sound of Africa – the roar of a lion. But for Chris Watson, the most memorable sound was of elephants sleeping, which is described as a sound which you feel as well as hear.

The Compass: Living With Nature, The Sounds of the Masai Mara is scheduled for broadcast tonight (29 July) on the BBC World Service at 10.32 (British Summer Time). It is also available to download now in both high quality (128kbps) and lower quality (64kbps) versions, or you can listen to the programme in the player below.