Elephants Have Never Been Treated Better — A Community Success Story

Community-driven conservation is proving to be an effective method of creating a space where humans and elephants can exist in harmony.

Photo by Udara Karunarathna on Unsplash

The article was originally published on WeNaturalists, as a part of the curated section by the editorial team. For similar stories, head to our Explore section.

“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” — Theodore Roosevelt

We’ve all considered what the world would be like when our grandchildren grow up. But, what we may never have thought about is how different would wildlife be for our future generations. Scientists all across the world have voiced their opinions to predict that in the next 50 years if we do not spend time thinking and generating plans to conserve wildlife globally, species we know and love will slowly move towards extinction. While this is heartbreaking, there are organizations that have accepted the challenge and are on a mission to become passionate defenders of the natural world.

A Sanctuary With A Difference

Between a thorny scrubland of Northern Kenya, is situated the Namunyak Community Conservancy which houses the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. The sanctuary was officially established in 2016 where the local Samburu community would rescue abandoned and orphaned elephant calves, nourish, and care for them to help them regain their health before releasing them into the wild. Since then, Reteti sanctuary is not only caring for the elephants but has also set a benchmark as far as wildlife management is concerned.

Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

The local Samburu people have immense knowledge of nature which has proven to be an asset in the management of the sanctuary. Having provided a number of employment opportunities for the local people, especially those who have missed out on formal education, Reteti along with the Samburu community set an example by presenting to the world how a remote region in Kenya can introduce a successful new way to conserve wildlife. For decades, these tribals had pursued pastoralism as a profession but after the birth of the sanctuary, they are now looking at a better and brighter future. The local people have realized that they can benefit from the elephant population in the area, thus they are working towards building a symbiotic relationship with them.

The inception of the sanctuary began as a simple idea. But after speaking to the locals, it metamorphosed into a much better program.

The Namunyak Community Conservancy began with conducting regular meetings with the local Samburu people. The management informed them how their livelihoods could improve with the sanctuary. They also explained the avenues of better education and newer opportunities that would open up with this program.

In just four years, the management has seen an outpouring of support from the local community. The response has been so tremendous that they have not been compelled to send even a single calf to another rehabilitation center.

The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has also opened the door to new possibilities for the Samburu women. Initially, it was only the men who contributed to the work, but slowly the women have come to realize the importance and benefits of maternal caregiving of the elephant calves. So now, they too have joined the cause.

Caring For The Magnificent Species

Photo by Trinity Treft on Unsplash

Since its establishment in 2015, Reteti has seen holistic development. Along with benefitting the locals, the advanced infrastructure at the sanctuary allows for maximum efficiency in dealing with elephant calves. According to the latest survey, Reteti is home to around 14 calves and it’s gratifying to see how its support has helped in the well-being of the elephants. From monitoring the health of the calves, feeding them regularly, maintaining their stress levels and introducing them to their new families, the Reteti team deals with the needs and wants of every individual elephant.

Apart from this facility, the sanctuary also consists of a mobile elephant rescue team that works daily on elephant rescues, mitigation of animal/human conflict and community awareness.

It is estimated that between five and ten elephant calves are rescued in North Kenya every year, from a population of around 8700. Reteti has successfully conducted three translocations in the year 2019 and the young elephants are now spending time with wild herds in the area and living without any human contact. According to David Daballen, head of field operations at Save the Elephants, they are glad to learn from their tracking data that the orphans are increasingly interacting with the wild elephants.

A Leader In The Making

It’s worth mentioning here that one of the female calves nurtured by the women in the Reteti sanctuary is now a leader of the other calves. Shaba, the elephant calf is like just another young girl who feels responsible for her siblings when her mother has too much to handle. Such young girls are quick to realize that they need to showcase their leadership instincts to protect their families. Shaba leads her herd like a true captain and teaches life lessons to the younger ones. She displays her fighting spirit if a baby from her herd is frightened by someone around and if a young one is facing difficulty in trodding along, Shaba is there to navigate the calf. Young Shaba does give us a lesson or two on how to discover our own power and resilience to protect our herd.

Conserving Elephants Is A Global Mission

Similar to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, there are various global sanctuaries across countries such as Canada, Cambodia, Tennessee and many more which are working towards the survival of this magnificent species by using GPS tracking equipment to learn about the behaviors of the elephants and note their movements in real-time. Apart from gathering data, this technique also helps in saving an elephant’s life. When the researchers notice the unusual immobility of a particular elephant, they understand it could mean that either the animal is hurt or is at risk of being hunted down. The researchers then send messages to nearby rangers who investigate and save the elephant from any further harm.

The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is an excellent example of wildlife conservation managed by local communities. Similar to its mission, various organizations worldwide are working towards creating a space where humans and elephants can co-exist in harmony.

This can only be achieved through an integrated and action-oriented approach that combines education, research, and community participation.



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