Four years ago, wildlife activist and humanitarian Carla Geyser began dreaming of an ambitious expedition to help create awareness and raise funds for Africa’s dwindling elephant populations. She envisioned leading a team through southern Africa’s elephant-range countries, connecting with conservationists, sharing their stories and carving a trail of public awareness from South Africa to Kenya.

Two days ago, on South Africa’s National Women’s Day, her “big idea” became a reality. Led by a procession of roaring Harley Davidson motorbikes, the all-women Elephant Ignite team steered their fully-equipped SUVs out of the parking lot at Durban’s Sibaya Casino and set course for dustier tracks. The event marked the start of a 10,000-kilometre journey through southern Africa with one goal in mind: to help save the continent's elephants.

Elephant Ignite Leaving 2016 08 11
The Elephant Ignite crew leaving Sibaya Casino to begin their 10,000-kilometre journey.

“Our hope is that the Elephant Ignite Expedition will ignite and instigate change wherever we go and that our message will get out there to the world," Geyser told the gathering of reporters, friends, family and fans that turned up in Durban to see off the team. In an emotionally-charged address, the expedition leader expressed her thanks to various sponsors and organisations for pitching in to help make the 100-day journey a possibility.

In total, 13 women will take part in the epic expedition - six permanent team members and seven alternating crew. The journey will take them across multiple borders from South Africa to Kenya as they visit dozens of conservationists, wildlife bodies and communities along the way. In addition to raising funds, they'll be handing out educational material and connecting with various environmentalists in an effort to encourage knowledge-sharing across the continent.

Elephant Ignite Crew 2016 08 11
The six permanent crew members taking part in the Elephant Ignite Expedition. From left to right: Isabel Wolf-Gillespie, Carla Geyser, Penny Parker, Shannon Saunders, Bronwyn Laing and Yolande Kruger. Image © Tania Kuhl

So why elephants? For Geyser, these massive animals are symbols of unity, power and family. "I just love elephants," she says in her Elephant Ignite bio. "I wanted to do something special to make a difference for elephants and to say thank you to the incredible people on the ground that protect them."

Africa's largest land mammals are currently in crisis with numbers declining over much of the continent mostly as a result of the illegal ivory trade. Initial estimates from the Great Elephant Census tell a sobering story. Launched in 2013, the project is the first pan-African census of the species in 40 years, and uses aerial surveys to create an up-to-date picture of the status of African elephants. While populations in some areas like South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Botswana’s Okavango Delta have remained stable, East Africa’s elephant herds have been hit hard by poaching.

Once home to the largest elephant populations in Africa, Tanzania has seen a staggering loss of over 60% of their herds in the last five years prompting a new focus on wildlife management and conservation in the area. Insights revealed in the new census could be vital for creating management plans that are tailored for specific areas - something that the Elephant Ignite team are also hoping to achieve.

Through drawing parallels and connecting different conservation organisations, the team hope to bring about change in the areas where it matters most. Already, funds from the project have been used to construct a borehole pump in a local village in Malawi, helping put a stop to human-elephant conflict, as villagers no longer need to trek into the surrounding national park to gain access to water.

Currently, the crew have crossed the border into Swaziland having already spent some time in Thula Thula Game Lodge and Phinda Private Game Reserve where they witnessed an elephant immobilization.

Our crew will be tagging along for some of the expedition (check out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates or visit the Elephant Ignite website for more).