The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a bright light of hope in an often dangerous and murky political environment that is Africa. Through the years and no matter what has been happening with the government or other agencies, Sheldrick Trust has been there to offer life to wildlife that would have surely died without it.
The vision of the Sheldricks is strong as is their tireless pursuit of solutions to the problems of elephants and rhinos created mostly by man. Daphne Sheldrick and her daughter Angela are 100% committed to saving and protecting African wildlife, especially elephants and rhinos. Their whole life is built around doing this important work.Fortunately there are many elephant lovers around the world who are helping to support their mission.
But even with an abundance of monetary aid, the project could not be successful without the hands on administration and the unwavering dedication of the amazing, tireless, compassionate and saintly men who are the keepers for the orphans and who have made their care their life’s vocation. (At this time there are no women elephant keepers, and the longest one has lasted through training is six months.) It is an austere life but for the love and closeness one develops with the young pacyderms.
These elephant guardians, who in fact become the foster mothers for the babies, live full time at the orphanage and only spend 4 days a month free where many of them must travel long distances to visit their human families.
Edwin Lusichi says he sleeps well at night, knowing that he is doing something important and useful with his life. He also reaps the rewards for it daily by being able to watch and learn and share a remarkable bond with an animal as challenging, as interesting, as special and as intelligent as an elephant.
He grew up in the western part of the country and one of his most important early experiences was that of scout leader, where he learned and taught others to respect and do no harm to any animal, even an insect. His early aspirations took led him to the priesthood and he spent more than a year in the seminary. This career was unexpectedly interrupted and he carried on by studying computers. Only problem was, there were no jobs. He had come to Nairobi to be with his dad. Out of work, he visited the Sheldrick orphanage often and loved observing and being near the baby elephants. One day by chance there was a big rescue operation and they needed someone to stay at the orphanage and help mind the store. This led to a full time position.
Now, 12 years later, he still enjoys sleeping with the baby elephants and caring for them, but besides that, he coordinates and reports daily to the Sheldrick family about each animal and new foster parent, plays tour guide at the daily tourist visits, recruits new foster parents, trains new caretakers, administers veterinary operations, and hosts the plethora of stars and political dignitaries who stop by and want to be involved. (Recent visitors include Natalie Portman and Kristin Davis.)
While visiting our two baby orphans in Nairobi, Turkwel (about 2 yrs. old), and Kainuk (about 1 year old), it was very sweet to see how bonded they were to each other. I was told that Kainuk will scream and cry if she is separated from Turkwel. Shy Turkwel meanwhile proudly ushers Kainuk around and comforts her. They are in stables at night where they can see and touch each other. They were both rescued, a year apart, from the Lake Turkana area. Perhaps they are part of the same extended family.
Keeper Samuel Lotukoi who has worked for Sheldricks for 9 years, is also from the Lake Turkana area. He was taking care of Turkwel on our last visit to the orphanage and the three of them were like a happy trio. Samuel, like all the caretakers I had the privilege to meet, is very friendly and a true elephant lover. Like the others he only gets off 4 days a month to travel and see his family. He was lucky that for several years he worked at Tsavo where his family has moved to. But he is not complaining about being in Nairobi either.
Mishak Nzimbi, at the Sheldricks for 23 years, is the longest serving elephant keeper at the orphanage. He has a reputation for understanding them all and for being, without exception, every elephant’s favorite keeper who has had wonderful responses from even the trickiest elephants. He also does innumerable radio shows in his native Wkumba tribe to foster respect and caring for wildlife.
I wish caretakers of elephants at zoos and circuses around the world, could come and see the level of caring and love that is present here. They would see what it takes to truly let elephants thrive. Perhaps by comparison they could see what paltry lives they are giving to their poor caged and mistreated charges. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a massive raising of consciosness regarding the respect due to animals. If it were to begin anywhere, it would have to be at the elephant and rhino orphanage
Benjamin Kyalo, a 12 year veteran of the Trust, is the chief caretaker at the Ithumba camp in Tsavo East National Park. He oversees the nurturing of the older orphans and keeps track of them, watches over their transitions back to the wild. Ex- orphans often come back to visit and if they are sick they come back to the camp, using it as a kind of elephant clinic. There they are given supplements and any needed medication or veterinary care.
Benjamin was not happy when he worked in the auto industry. One day he went to visit the orphanage and found his true calling. He just couldn’t believe that some people could spend their time working with elephants. He applied and got trained to be a caretaker but in his group more people passed than they actually needed. The administration said they would let the elephants decide who would be their caretakers. “An elephant can tell when you have love in your heart.” The elephants chose him. Now he is project manager at Ithumba. Despite all Benjamin’s responsibilities, when you visit Ithumba, he stays with you and gently and patiently answers all your questions.
It is telling of their dedication to find out that all the caretakers know all the elephant faces and names by sight. That includes the babies as well as those who have gone into the wild for a number of years.
Please see Part 1 of this article:
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