The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary was opened in 2016, in Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. The facility rescues young elephants, orphaned due to abandonment, drought, poaching, separation or falling into wells from which they cannot escape.
Once a young elephant has been reported as alone, the initial aim is to observe it over a period of 48 hours and attempt to reunite it with its mother and herd. If this does not occur naturally, Reteti steps in and brings the elephant to their sanctuary. Once here, the keepers provide 24-hour care until the elephant is fit to be released back into the wild – a process which takes several years to achieve depending on the age of the orphan when first rescued.
Reteti is the first community-owned and community-run elephant sanctuary in Kenya – a feat the Samburu people have achieved solely through their own initiative and drive. The local people have recognised the benefits of helping and conserving their wildlife, not least for the employment opportunities that this creates and the subsequent far-reaching improvements in livelihoods. Reteti is completely staffed by Samburu people, including a growing number of women. This represents a significant and very positive shift in attitudes and perception of women in employment; in fact, Reteti has the first female elephant keepers in Africa.
When visitors arrive at the sanctuary, there is an introduction by one of the keepers and an opportunity to witness one of the feeding sessions from a shady, elevated platform looking down into the main enclosure. The baby elephants are bottle-fed individually by the keepers, up close to the viewing platform. Witnessing the genuine love and care that the keepers have for their young charges is truly touching – and something that is clearly reciprocated by the elephants when observing their interactions with their keepers.
A back-of-house tour is also possible, which allows the opportunity to chat to the keepers and learn more about the individual elephants and their stories. While these are still early days at Reteti and no elephants are ready yet to be re-released, it will be a momentous and emotional occasion when the first orphans are mature enough to move back into the wild.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is an excellent example of community-based conservation and is a cause well worth supporting. It offers visitors a very different experience to other orphan sanctuaries: intimate, quiet and emotive, with a fascinating insight into the relationships between orphans and those who care for them.