A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, an orphanage for infant elephants located in the Namunyak Conservancy in northern Kenya. Officially opened in August 2016, the sanctuary aims both to rehabilitate orphaned elephants and to create employment and revenue for the local community. This in turn ensures a broader understanding of the importance of elephant conservation in the region, although it speaks volumes that the collective voice of the local community was the driving force behind setting up the sanctuary in the first place!
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
YZ expert Wies traveled to northern Kenya to explore the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary.
Poaching of adult elephants for their ivory is obviously one of the main contributors to the population of elephant young at Reteti, but this is far from the only reason for the sanctuary’s existence. Other contributing factors include manmade wells, drought, human–wildlife conflict, and natural mortality. All this combined contributes to the intake of between 5 and 10 youngsters per year, who are then cared for and raised by trained handlers before being released back into the wild.
"I strongly believe that, while the work done with young elephants is absolutely vital, perhaps the most important aspect of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the involvement and contribution of the Samburu community. These are without doubt the first steps towards the long-term successful co-existence of wildlife and humans in this amazing area."
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary relies in large part on donations from the public, and as such it’s open to visitors on a daily basis for a small fee of $20 per person. This money goes towards milk formula, bottles for feeding, and various medicines for the elephants. Other aspects of the organisation – for example, their mobile rescue team, the training of keepers, and even staff payments – rely not only on the contributions of visitors but also on the generosity of the general public.
The community involvement, and importantly evolvement, has played an incredible role in making Reteti an almost overnight success. For centuries, this area has been home to the Samburu people, a pastoralist tribe that lived peacefully alongside the wildlife. However, with population growth came pressure on the habitats of these wild animals, and as a result human–wildlife conflicts became more and more of an issue. The Samburu have realised that wildlife can be harnessed as a valuable resource, capable of creating opportunities in fields such as conservation and tourism. This approach is highlighted at Reteti itself, which moreover has moved to empower women by training them as keepers. In a community previously not inclined to consider the workplace as a space for women, this really is a brilliant development – it sets a positive example for young girls hoping to pursue their own ambitions.
If you would like to visit the Reteti Sanctuary, we'd recommend staying at Sarara Camp. For any more information on northern Kenya or Reteti, please don't hesitate to contact us on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or email [email protected]