Image by Stuart Butler

My Visit To Reteti

By Ashley Anderson, Saruni Marketing

Staring out across miles and miles of untidy scrubland on the way to The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, I couldn’t help but wonder how this community-run sanctuary worked. Our guide told us that it was designed to rescue and release orphaned and abandoned animals, particularly elephant calves, while creating much-needed benefits for the local people living alongside them. Had they managed to hit the sweet spot between supporting the local community and safeguarding the wildlife living in the area? I was keen to find out!

We arrived and were greeted by the Reteti team. Dorothy, one of the senior elephant ‘keepers’ talked us through the project; how they worked and briefed us on all the animals currently in their care.

Interestingly, she told us that not all the rescued elephants were from human-wildlife conflict. Instead many at the Sanctuary were actually casualties of drought, abandonment and accidents involving infants falling into wells.

The young animals are cared for by a team of dedicated keepers, recruited from the local communities. I was surprised and pleased to see how many women were on the team. As Dorothy said, we are used to looking after our babies, so it is natural for us to look after these babies.

The professional mobile rescue unit manages to save around five to ten calves in northern Kenya each year, many of whom are returned directly back to their herds.

They survive on donations, and money made from the daily visits went towards buying more milk formula, medicines and supplies for the infants.

So far, impressive! It was amazing to see how much respect the team had not only for the animals in their care and the surrounding areas but for the women from their communities.

We then headed off to the kitchen to watch them mix the elephants’ individualised formulas. Each elephant has its own combination of milk formula and other nutrients like moringa powder and even porridge! The vet on duty designs their food daily based on their age, their current condition, and what they would naturally be getting from their diets in the wild.

I was mesmerised by the efficiency in which they worked- adding pre-measured powders to water, stirring them with a long stick and finally decanting the mixture into oversized milk bottles lined up on the table.

I checked my watch, only five minutes to go before the ‘herd’ would arrive for their noon feed. The team were assembling in the elephant ‘boma’ (enclosure), ready.

We stood on a platform, overlooking the enclosure, cameras poised.

Wow. The calves trundled towards their keepers and downed the milk, almost in one! It was so special to share this intermate moment between humans and elephants. They limit the number of visitors, so you feel like you are part of a select few who get to witness these little ones feeding and playing. I could have stayed for hours watching the ellies interact with each other and their keepers.

One of the older looking elephants was due to be released back into the wild shortly. I watched him, wondering how he would get on in the big world. He bashed into his keeper, making him laugh. At least, the Reteti team would always have his back.

I cannot recommend this visit enough. We headed off to enjoy our picnic lunch in the shade of a huge rock with an extra-ordinary painting of a bull elephant. We had smiles on our faces and a belief that there is hope for the planet and its precious wildlife.