Keepers are calling names in raised voices, names shouted in Samburu dialect, one of the languages in Northern Kenya. From the right, you suddenly see little elephant legs running from the outer fence to the keepers. Some of the younger ones almost tripping on their trunks. They go through the gate straight to the keeper who is holding their feeding bottle. The young elephants enjoy their milk to the last drop. They then let out little loud trumpets. I didn’t know that they were that loud. But that explains how their moms would find them in the wild. This is a morning in Reteti.

These elephants don’t know anywhere else as home. All of them have a story. Orphaning of elephants happens for many reasons. Some are abandoned at birth because they are born premature. Others are severely sick or injured when they are very young, hence being abandoned.And there are those that are too weak to walk especially in the drought season and cannot keep up with the herd. Others fall into the hand dug wells and the herd doesn’t come back for them.

And sadly, some of them are victims of poaching. Poachers kill the mothers and the herds take off to safety, leaving the baby behind.

All these babies, in Northern Kenya, end up at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. This is the place they will call home until the day they are old and strong enough to be released back into the wild. They are closely monitored to see that they integrate well with other elephants in the wild.

Dedicated Reteti’s keepers take care of them day and night. Reteti is now the first sanctuary with female keepers taking care of the baby eles. Their motherly instincts are of great value.

You see the dedication of the team from the specific weighing of the milk formula, each unique to the baby and their needs. They also demonstrate kindness and nurturing in the way the babies interact and play.

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is one of a kind. It is a community-owned and run initiative. The Samburu and community members call whenever they find a baby elephant, and this helps in rescues being done promptly.

There is sustainability created in the community by creating employment and now Samburu women can work in equal capacity as men.

In addition, Sarara and Reteti have now established a Mobile Montessori Education Centers. The communities are pastoralists and move with the livestock. By establishing mobile schools, the school educates children in their early years and can continue as their livestock moves with the pasture grazing.

Supporting Reteti goes a long way.

Ashe Oleng (Thank you in Samburu).

This post is written by Elephant Cooperation’s Field Team Member, Suzzi Helfer, as a reflection on her first to Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. 

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