ELE­PHANT OR­PHAN­AGE SETS THE BENCH­MARK

THE EX­PE­RI­ENCE OF FOS­TER­ING AN OR­PHANED AFRICAN ELE­PHANT HELPS HIGH­LIGHT THE PLIGHT OF THIS THREAT­ENED SPECIES. BY CARLA GROS­SETTI

Vacations & Travel - - On The Ground -

“Hey Ki­asa, come meet your mama,” says Julius Shivegha, an ele­phant keeper at the David Sheldrick Ele­phant Or­phan­age in Nairobi. It’s with these few words and the al­lure of fresh aca­cia leaves that my foster ele­phant starts to slowly edge for­ward to­ward the open­ing of the stall.

It’s a pro­foundly mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to of­fi­cially meet the or­phaned ele­phant, and one I’ve looked for­ward to for months ahead of my Bench

Africa tour of Kenya, in East Africa.

As Julius tells it, Ki­asa was or­phaned when her mother died of star­va­tion in the rust-red plains of Tsavo East, which has been gripped by the worst drought in re­cent his­tory. Poach­ers also ac­count for about 20,000 deaths of African ele­phants each year.

“Ki­asa came to us when she was about three months old. This was after her mother died of star­va­tion. As most peo­ple un­der­stand, Tsavo, be­ing the largest park in the coun­try, suf­fered se­vere drought last year and so many of the or­phans came to us from Tsavo,” says Julius.

“Ki­asa is about 14 months old now and she will stay in the nurs­ery un­til she is ready to be moved to Tsavo where it takes a min­i­mum of five to 10 years to be able to be re­turned to the wild,” he says.

A GIFT OF LIFE

My first glimpse of Ki­asa was via video link footage of her res­cue. The sec­ond time I see the an­i­mal she is thun­der­ing to­ward me with her pachy­derm pals, via a muddy path at the or­phan­age, lo­cated in the cen­tre of Nairobi. The or­phan­age, which was es­tab­lished in 1977 by the late, great David Sheldrick and his wife Dame Daphne, who also passed away in April 2018, is now one of Nairobi’s most-loved at­trac­tions.

Julius, who is clad in an over­sized lolly-green lab coat and wield­ing an over­sized milk bot­tle full of baby for­mula, has been work­ing at the ele­phant or­phan­age for 11 years.

“I love my job, which is re­viv­ing the life of ele­phants that would have died. Help­ing them out to nurse them back to life and send them back to the wild is a great job,” says Julius.

When asked to de­scribe Ki­asa’s na­ture, Julius smiles and gen­tly strokes the ele­phant’s head: “No­body should stand in Ki­asa’s way; she will al­ways have her way when she wants it,” says Julius.

“Some of the ele­phants come in and you don’t ex­pect them to sur­vive be­cause we find them when they are as good as dead. With that sur­viv­ing spirit and the love of their hu­man fam­ily we see them pull out and that is a very good thing… to feel like you have saved the life of a liv­ing crea­ture,” he says.

HELP­ING PRE­SERVE THE ELE­PHANT POP­U­LA­TION

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is now be­ing man­aged by the Sheldrick’s daugh­ter, An­gela, pi­o­neered the sci­ence of rais­ing or­phaned ele­phants and re­turn­ing them to the wild. Since its in­cep­tion four decades ago the Trust has re­leased more than 230 or­phaned ele­phants back into the wild and cur­rently has 93 or­phaned ele­phants in its care.

Six days after vis­it­ing the ele­phant or­phan­age in Nairobi, I am on my first game drive sa­fari in Tsavo East with Bench Africa where ele­phants such as Ki­asa are even­tu­ally re­turned to the wild. It’s here, while spot­ting herds of wild African ele­phants around the Satao Camp, that my thoughts turn to feisty lit­tle Ki­asa, who is des­tined to be rein­te­grated back into this harsh sa­van­nah en­vi­ron­ment. •

Clock­wise from far bot­tom left: Ele­phants in Tsavo East pre­par­ing to be re­turned to the wild: Ki­asa the or­phaned ele­phant with Julius Shivegha; Keep­ers feed­ing the or­phaned ele­phants.

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