World Elephant Day: Introducing Africa's first community owned elephant orphange

12th Aug 18 | Lifestyle

A successful project in northern Kenya is saving young elehants and returning them to the wild.

They’re one of the most emotionally sensitive and affectionate creatures to walk our planet, yet elephants are also highly endangered. So often, stories of poaching incidents grab news headlines, making it hard to feel positive about the species’ future.

But there are also many success stories, and on World Elephant Day, it’s worth highlighting one of them.

An elephant in Samburu, Kenya
(Renato Granieri/PA)

Introducing Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Based in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya’s Samburu County, part of the Matthews Range where one of Kenya’s largest elephant population resides, the first community owned elephant orphanage in Africa opened in August 2016.

An orphaned elephant at the Reteti Elephant Orphanage (Renato Granieri/PA)
An orphaned elephant at the Reteti Elephant Orphanage (Renato Granieri/PA)

Previously, orphaned and abandoned elephants were sent to the David Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage in Nairobi, but were always returned to the wild elsewhere.

Keen to bring elephants back to their Samburu home, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary was initiated as a project by the local community and was supported with funding from Conservation International and Tusk Trust.

A day in the life of a baby elephant

The baby elephants go out at 6am for a mud bath and come back at 11.30am. Every three hours (around the clock) they are fed a “milk” made up of human baby formula with whey, and the eager guzzlers can consume up to 16 litres a day. Unsurprisingly, they are one of the world’s most expensive animals to feed.

At night, the elephant calves sleep in their own pens and keepers keep watch from a platform above. These are all people from the local community – including women – who were trained by experts from San Diego Zoo. Each elephant is assigned three keepers so they have 24-hour attention.

How do the calves end up in the sanctuary?

Some elephants are orphaned when their mothers are killed through poaching or community conflict; others are abandoned after falling down ‘singing wells’ – manmade watering holes named after songs herdsman sing to call their cattle to drink.

After rescues are carried out, the team wait for a calf’s mother to return, and 70% of the time she comes back. If not, the elephant is taken to the orphanage.

Can tourists visit?

Yes, it is possible for tourists to arrange a visit for a small fee. However, the main focus is to eventually rewild elephants and return them to their rightful Samburu home. For more information, click here.

© Press Association 2018