Accommodations for guests at Ithumba are scarce (only one party at a time) and it is a remote area in the northern area of Tsavo East Park with no game drive roads. Getting there is a long 7 hours of traffic and bumps from Nairobi. And it is dusty. But our trip there was unforgettable. There is something very special about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. And because the elephants there were all or partially raised by humans, it is possible to get very close.
Not only did we see and spend time with our third and oldest orphan, Tumaren, I was able to have a real communication. She was not as rambunctious as last year when she tried to steal my sunglasses, but she warmed up to me and appeared to remember me.
Her best friend seemed to be Kilaguni, who had been attacked by hyenas when a baby and is missing his tail and little bites from his ears, but yet a very spirited and happy guy. Wendi who is already 9 years old, big and beautiful, comes back to visit quite often. She was found at only two days old and raised completely by humans. She is very curious and affectionate still. Some worry she is still too trusting of humans which may put her in greater danger.
It was extremely dry in Tsavo, just before the rainy season. The Sheldrick huge water truck arrived every day with plenty of water for the orphans. Since it was so dry, huge wild elephants would also show up to drink. While we were there we saw several groups of big bulls come for water. I was surprised as I had been told that bull elephants generally stay solo, but caretaker Benjamin assured me that they usually travel in groups an do not like to be isolated.
Benjamin explained that they normally wouldn’t get that close to people, but they knew that the keepers are taking care of the young elephants, and also they need the water. They lined up like very civilized beings, and they let the babies drink first. Sure there were a few pushy ones, but they seemed to work it out quickly among themselves and then all was very copacetic. Many times I watched them drinking together in a synchronized way and moving that way too when it was time to go.
Elephants are very vocal, and when it was time for their bottles, those young elephants hollered loudly and made noises that would seem scary if you came upon them in the jungle. Elephants are also very tactile. I was privileged to be greeted and caressed by a few different elephants. -older orphans, as well as ex orphans who had been living in the wild for a few years and were quite large.
It was spectacular. I was able to share intimate time with them and it is one of the greatest and deepest thrills of my life. It felt highly spiritual communing with another very evolved species. I felt a great deal of love flowing from the elephants straight into my heart. I have felt a great deal of bonding with pets in the past, which has also opened my heart. Yet pets are truly dependent on us to be their guardians. Elephants have lived in the wild and are an independent group. When they choose to embrace you it is special indeed.
Daphne Sheldrik writes beautifully about elephants and their emotions: “Animals are more ancient, more complex, and in many ways more sophisticated than man. In terms of Nature they are truly more perfect because they remain within the ordered scheme of Nature and live as Nature intended. They are different to us, honed by natural selection over millennia so they should not be patronized, but rather respected and revered. And of all the animals, perhaps the most respected and revered should be the Elephant, for not only is it the largest land mammal on earth, but also the most emotionally human.”
Like many people, I am in love with the elephants. I can’t help but want to do everything I can think of to help them thrive and keep them from harm. I am starting a website called ThrivingElephants.org and I will post my articles and photos. I will support the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in any way I can, as well as continuing to work to help liberate the captive elephants in the US and around the world from their lives of slavery and abuse.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has recently been featured in the Imax film, Born to Be Wild in 3-D. (In Los Angeles, it can still be seen at the California Science Center -- located in Exposition Park, just two blocks west of the Harbor (110) Freeway at the Exposition Boulevard exit.) Dame Sheldrick told me there will be a sequel and they will try to capture on film one of the ex orphans having its baby. Two are pregnant who still visit the Ithumba Camp.
The elephant orphanage is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Nairobi and sure to be a highlight of any African trip to those who visit during its daily limited visiting hours in the Nairobi National Park.
Visitng the baby elephants first hand is an experience one will always remember. Helping to foster one costs only $50 per year. The thrill of following your adoptee through her growth into a wild elephant: priceless.To reiterate a comment made by Benjamin, chief caretaker at Ithumba, “I have two families now - my family at home and my elephant family.”
Please see Part 1 of this article,
and Part 2,
Photos by Georja Umano
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
To learn more about the work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its projects, or to foster an orphan elephant, visit:
From the USA to make a tax deductible contribution, send check to:
US FRIENDS OF THE DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST
201 North Illinois Street
16th Floor - South Tower
Indianapolis, IN 46204