About us

Elephants Alive is a Non-Profit Organisation registered with the South African Revenue Services (SARS) as a charity. The board consists of 5 Members: Marlene McCay – Founder & Chair; Dr Michelle Henley – Senior Scientist and Researcher; Barry Paul – Information security and Database manager; Sannetjie Marais – Treasurer and Administrator; Sarah Smuts – Marketing & PR; Paul Levey – Advisor. The Scientific Advisory Board has 3 members: Professor Leslie Brown (UNISA), Dr Sam Ferreira, and Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton.

Profile: Marlene McCay – Founder and Chair

Wildlife Conservation has been central to Marlene’s life from her childhood. Her earliest memories are of the savannah bush in the north eastern region of South Africa, where her grandfather bought great tracts of land during the Second World War. She grew up in the city and in the bush. In 1956, her father, a surgeon in Pretoria, founded the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve on the border of the Kruger National Park. At a young age, she was struck by the famous words of King George VI, “Wildlife today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after.”  Her passion for conservation comes from a deep respect for life and survival. She became acutely aware that all of life is intricately connected, and that there is a role for all to play in the survival of species and our planet. Humans as well as other living beings depend on an environment that is intact and can survive. It became her life’s mission to ensure that future generations would have the privilege of coming face to face with wild animals in pristine wilderness.  During her school years she was member of the Junior Committee of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, and later on she served on the Executive Committee of the Reserve for a period of thirteen years.

At University she read languages and philosophy, completing her degree in a Bachelor of Arts with a Diploma in Higher Education.  She worked in advertising and the travel industry and travelled abroad after this, spending time in London, Paris and Italy where she continued her studies in languages and the arts.

In the mid 1970’s, after the first white lions were discovered on their property in the Timbavati, she and her husband became instrumental in translocating some of the white lion offspring to the Pretoria and Johannesburg zoos. She also assisted with the publication of the book, “The White Lions of the Timbavati” (Paddington Press) in 1977. In the same year she opened Tanda Tula Safari Camp which was to become one of the leading game lodges and tented safari camps in Africa.

In 1979 she began working with IUCN on their Conservation Education programme in Southern Africa. A year later her first child was born, and for eight years she dedicated her life to raising her three small children.

In 1988 she became the owner of Constantia Uitsig Wine Farm and developed the property which was to become an iconic wine estate producing top quality wines and housing three award-winning restaurants, a boutique hotel and spa, a cricket field and horse riding facilities. Her interests lay in providing excellence and creating beautiful spaces which exuded elegance and warmth, and which honoured the environment. “Tread gently on the surface of the earth” was her maxim. Top quality service was important to her, as was marketing and branding her products.  A background in advertising gave her a strong bent for branding (she was instrumental in creating the branding for Southern Sun Hotels) which she believes is vital to the success of business enterprises.  “It is all about communication,” she says. While running the Estate and managing the operations, Marlene produced “Constantia Uitsig, the Cookbook” with Struik Publishers (2000). It was a resounding success and had numerous print reruns.

In 1994 Marlene and her husband bought farms in a valley near Graaff Reinet in the Great Karoo, removing all the fences between the farms as well as domestic livestock on the seriously denuded veld and replacing it with wild animals. Here they created a privately owned Game Reserve called Asante Sana.  There are now 19 species of herbivores, including elephants, rhino, and giraffe, as well as leopard, caracal and many other animal species thriving on the reserve.  She assisted with producing a book “Origins, the Song of Nooitgedacht, a Remote Valley in the Karoo” by Jennifer Gough-Cooper (Wild Almond Press, 2011)

In 2001 Marlene became a Trustee of Save the Elephants, and she continues to be an active Trustee.

In 2002 Marlene received the Freedom of the City of London for her work in Wildlife Conservation.

In 2003 she started the Save the Elephants Transboundary Elephant Research Programme operating in the Association of Private Nature Reserves adjacent to the Kruger National Park, and in 2006 Save the Elephants-SA became a registered South African NGO operating in the North, East and West of Kruger. Over fifty elephants have been collared with GPS collars since the outset of the programme. The research continues through ELEPHANTS ALIVE ** , and her research team is now doing further research in Kruger, monitoring the impact of elephants on the environment and investigating the mitigation of elephant impacts on the environment.

Life has come a full circle. Thirty Five years after creating Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and Twenty Five years after opening the doors of Constantia Wine Estate to the public, both properties have been sold, and Marlene is now focussing her energies more fully on one of her greatest passions – Conservation. This comes at a crucial time when the survival of three of Africa’s most iconic animals – elephant, rhino and lion – are becoming critically threatened by human encroachment, environmental degradation, poaching and wildlife trafficking.

In 2012 Marlene joined the advisory board of Greenpop, an organisation that is involved in environmental education and greening deforested areas in Southern Africa.

In the same year, she founded a new charity, which is undergoing a name change from STE-SA to ELEPHANTS ALIVE, working in collaboration with Save the Elephants on tracking, mortality and a Great Tusker campaign. “‘Our mission is to ensure the survival of elephants and their habitats and to promote harmonious co-existence between man and elephants.’ We do this through research and education and creating awareness through the media, as well as networking with various conservation bodies to capture hearts and minds.”

“In February 2014 I attended a Symposium on Wildlife Trafficking, headed up by Prince William and Prince Charles, where more than fifty world leaders gathered to address Wildlife Trade and Trafficking. Doors are opening, and new opportunities are emerging in the conservation realm. It is most heartening to see that heads of state are now becoming more conscious and proactive about addressing the rampant wildlife trade that threatens to destroy many of our most iconic animals within our lifetime. The symposium signified for me somewhat of a pinnacle of what I have worked for all my life – to get world leaders to assist in creating awareness and turning the tide by addressing demand for endangered animal products as well as becoming responsible for legislation and law enforcement. And while the great wheels move forward, we work on the ground with scientists, researching and educating and training people and local communities to play their part.”

Profile: Dr Michelle Henley – Senior Scientist and Researcher


2008 – 2010                  Postgraduate Certificate in Education – Intermediate & Senior Phase (passed with distinction), University of South Africa (part-time)

1999 – 2004 PhD, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Thesis: Sex and Age Related Distinctions in the Feeding Ecology of the African Elephant, Loxodonta africana

1995-1997                    MSc (passed with distinction), University of Pretoria.

Thesis: Characterisation of uterine progesterone and oestrogen receptors in the African elephant Loxodonta africana

1994                               BSc (Hons.), University of Pretoria

1990 – 1993                  BSc, University of Pretoria Majors: Zoology and Biochemistry (15 modules passed with distinction)

Related work:

•     Worked as part of a team appointed by the Department of Zoology of University of Oxford using more than 150 elephants’ tracking data, collected throughout Africa, to understand the survival strategies of the African elephant throughout its ecological range.

•     Registered Post-doctoral Fellow at the Applied Behavioural Ecology and Environmental Research Unit, University of South Africa.

•     One of five experts serving on the Elephant Specialists Advisory Group South Africa (ESAG-SA)

•     Supervision of six MSc and three BSc (Honours) students since 2009

•     Peer-reviewing scientific manuscripts on elephants for seven different scientific journals.

•     Review of Chapters 1-9, 12 and the summary for policy makers of Elephant Management: A Scientific Assessment for South Africa. 2008. Scholes, R.J. & Mendell, K.G. (eds.) Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

•     Participation in the Draft Norms and Standards for Management of Elephant in South Africa, the Threatened and Protected Species Regulations and the South Africa Elephant Research Strategy (2013-2023). Assessor for the Red Data Book of Endangered Wildlife Trust with regards to the conservation status of the African elephant in South Africa.

Awards and achievements:

2013: The Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa’s (WESSA) National Award for an individual

1999-2001:  One of four recipients of the National Research Foundation Prestigious Scholarship (PhD)

1995: Bob Blundell Memorial Trust scholarship (MSc)

Foundation of Research Development bursary (MSc)

Charles Astley Maberly scholarship (MSc)

1997: University of Pretoria Achievement bursary (MSc)

1994: Foundation of Research Development bursary (BSc-Hons.)

1990: University of Pretoria Achievement bursary (BSc)

University of South Africa bursary (BSc)

Bob Blundell Memorial Trust scholarship (BSc)

1991: University of Pretoria Achievement bursary (BSc)

1992: University of Pretoria Achievement bursary (BSc)

1993: University of Pretoria Achievement bursary (BSc)


22 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 4 popular publications


•     The posing of key questions, writing proposals, setting up of experiments to test specific hypotheses and producing scientific papers have all been integral part of my training as my academic career has equipped me with sound theoretical knowledge on scientific principles.

•     Having been one of the selected summer survey team leaders to Marion Island in 2001 after having been appointed as full-time field worker of the Sea Fisheries Research Institute to monitor seabird populations on the island (1997-1998), taught me leadership skills under adverse weather conditions. Valuable experience was gained in setting up research projects under sub-Antarctic conditions, ensuring the safety of team members and working in isolated environments where social interactions were both limited and challenging. These skills have helped me to manage a field base research programme where the safety of all team members often need to be considered and were isolated field conditions also come into play.

•     My extensive 10 year practical experience in the field as Programme Manager of Save the Elephants – South Africa, has enabled me to come up with hands-on, practically applicable research opportunities and solutions, thereby applying the theoretical knowledge acquired during my academic career.

•     The construction of a long-term conservation strategy for the African elephant requires an interdisciplinary approach. As a team leader I have personally been involved in collaborations with four local Universities, 13 local conservation organisations, NGO or communities as well as seven Universities abroad and three international conservation organisations (details available upon request). Furthermore, I have actively contributed and participated in various workshops to assist with governmental policy and regulatory documents.

•     I have furthered my belief as team leader that scientific endeavour should partly be dedicated to education and action pertaining to environmental issues by qualifying as a teacher, participating in numerous educational programs and writing as well as illustrating children’s books. In earlier years I tutored in Mathematics and Science and was a biology teacher at Happy Acres Educational Field Centre.