Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Kenya : 2016 saw the opening of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Young elephants who have become orphaned due to abandonment, drought, poaching, separation, or falling into wells from which they are unable to escape are saved at the facility.
When a young elephant is reported to be on its own, the first step is to observe it for 48 hours and make an effort to reunite it with its mother and herd. Reteti intervenes and transports the elephant to their sanctuary if this does not happen naturally. Upon arrival, the keepers give the elephant round-the-clock care until it is healthy enough to be returned to the wild. Depending on the age of the orphan when first saved, this process can take several years.
The Samburu people established Reteti, the first community-owned and community-run elephant sanctuary in Kenya, entirely on their own initiative and drive. The locals understand the value of protecting and helping their wildlife, not least because it opens up job opportunities and leads to significant improvements in their livelihoods. Samburu people, including an increasing number of women, staff Reteti entirely. The attitudes and perceptions of women in the workforce have undergone a significant and very positive shift as a result; in fact, Reteti has the first female elephant keepers in Africa.
When guests first arrive at the sanctuary, one of the keepers gives them a tour and gives them a chance to observe one of the feeding sessions from a shaded, elevated platform overlooking the main enclosure. The keepers bottle-feed the baby elephants one at a time right next to the viewing platform. It is incredibly heartwarming to see the keepers’ genuine affection and concern for their young charges; the elephants’ interactions with their keepers show that they share this sentiment.
It is also possible to take a back-of-house tour, which gives you the chance to speak with the keepers and discover more about the individual elephants and their histories. Even though it is still early at Reteti and no elephants have been mature enough to return to the wild, it will be a historic and emotional occasion when the first orphans are old enough to do so.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is a deserving beneficiary of donations and is a prime example of a community-based conservation effort. Compared to other orphan sanctuaries, it provides visitors with a very unique experience that is personal, quiet, and emotive, as well as a fascinating look into the interactions between orphans and those who provide for them.
The easiest way to get to Reteti is from Sarara, which is about a 20-minute drive away. The transfer time from Saruni Samburu camps, Saruni Rhino, or Sarara Treehouses to the site can take up to two hours. For fly-in visits, there is also a private airstrip. While there are no formal restrictions on how many people can visit for any session, the sanctuary is rarely busy due to its remote location, which is a huge plus. Visitation hours are from 8:00–10:00 and 11:30–12:00.
ELEPHANT CONSERVATION IN KENYA
Although there are African elephants in 37 countries across the continent, Kenya is home to almost 10% of them. The importance of elephant herds to the ecological wellbeing of the country’s habitats and natural spaces has come to the attention of Kenyans in recent years. By enforcing anti-poaching laws, educating the public, and allocating funds for elephant conservation, the Kenyan government has worked to promote change.
In Kenya, the elephant population has doubled since the 1980s and is still increasing. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Human activity continues to put elephants at risk of harm and injury.
WHAT MAKES THE RETETI ELEPHANT SANCTUARY SPECIAL?
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary adopts a distinctive strategy and involves the entire neighborhood. The neighborhood residents became aware that many of the elephants being rescued from the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy were never returning to their family herds. The population realized they needed to change their strategy because the elephant population is crucial to the wellbeing of the neighborhood.
Rescued elephants were taken by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, the country’s capital, before the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary was established. The neighborhood came to the decision to keep the elephants there and reintroduce them to the setting they were rescued from. Thirty elephants have currently been saved, and ten have already been released back into the wild.
Young elephants are the focus of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Each year, a large number of calves are orphaned or abandoned as a result of both natural and man-made hazards like poaching, drought, and habitat loss. Some of the calves get into the community’s wells, which the locals use for their cattle and domestic use. The elephants will visit the water at night to drink, but occasionally the calves will fall in and become trapped.
In the hopes that their mothers will find them, the Reteti team carefully monitors calves that are thought to have been abandoned. According to one of the sanctuary’s representatives, we give the elephants a window of 72 hours to see if their mother will return before the elephant is brought into Reteti. Since the project’s inception, we have been able to reunite 12 elephants with their families, and the remaining ones have arrived at the Reteti.
WHY VISIT RETETI?
ü A community-owned or operated sanctuary for abandoned or orphaned elephants and other wildlife is an example of responsible tourism.
ü Immersive experience: thorough briefing and a peek at what happens behind the scenes when caring for the “residents.”
ü Exclusive interactions: A small maximum visitor size translates into a private, close-up visit.
ü Female Empowerment: Leading female elephant keepers in community tourism and conservation
ü All admission fees to the Sanctuary go directly toward protecting the animals, who are the group that needs protection the most.
ü Territorial release program: Releasing animals into the same wilderness where they were rescued increases the likelihood of herd reunion and preserves wildlife populations in the northern eco-system.
ELEPHANT CARE AT THE RETETI ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary was created especially to provide for the needs of the elephants. The facilities are complete with mud baths for the elephants to play in, stables for them to sleep at night, and a special kitchen where their food is prepared. To feed the calves, the team is constantly at work. Every three hours, each elephant calf is fed a unique milk mixture.
The Sanctuary offers their elephants medical care as well. The Reteti Rescue Team never knows what the day will bring them when they are out performing a rescue in the hot African bush. Some of the calves they find abandoned or orphaned have severe wounds that need to be attended to. Unfortunately, in severe cases, the calves get too hurt and die.
Long’uro, a young male elephant, is a good example. Long’uro’s trunk had been severed by a hyena while it was entrapped in a well. This can be a serious and potentially fatal injury in the wild. The elephant’s trunk serves a variety of functions, including breathing, drinking water, communicating, smelling, grasping objects, and picking up food. Fortunately, despite having a very short trunk, Long’uro is doing quite well. Long’uro is thriving despite having a short trunk. According to a Reteti representative, “we are learning from him how an elephant can survive with a short trunk.