Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Elephant Who Cried Wolf

We just got back from a big trip a few weeks ago, and one of the things we did was go to Nairobi. We had one reason, and one reason only, to go to Nairobi - the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an organization that raises orphaned baby elephants rescued from all over Kenya (among other conservation efforts, but they are best known for the baby elephant orphanage).

We foster two of the baby elephants there, and since we were going to be in the region (loosely), we decided to seize the opportunity to go to Nairobi and visit. This added a considerable expense onto our vacation, but it was now or never to see my elephant, Lempaute. The goal of DSWT is to take these orphaned babies, raise them, and repatriate them back into the wild. They have had 85 orphans come through and go back into the wild, and some of them have even had babies of their own, babies that are wild.

It was a real treat to see the elephants. My husband fostered Lempaute for me as a Christmas present 2 years ago, and I never, ever imagined that I would visit someday. Never. I feel so lucky.

Here is my elephant, Lempaute. Edwin, the head keeper at DSWT's Nairobi nursery, told us that Lempaute is the "cheekiest" elephant that they have. We saw this for ourselves; we saw her antics in action, such as fake-charging a group of school children to scare them, walking down the rope line at the midday mudbath and feeding and letting everyone pet her, and then, at the private viewing, scaring a couple of children who were looking at her in her nighttime enclosure by sticking her trunk out at them. She even startled me by grabbing my arm with her trunk and pulling. I think she likes the children's screams. We read in the keeper's diary entries that her new game is to pretend that there is something in the bush that is scary and run away, and get her elephant friends to stampede away too. Elephants develop at approximately the same rate as people, so you have to remember that Lempaute is only three, just a toddler, really.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust really does great work. They focus on conservation, but in ways that would be workable for Africans. They not only try to educate communities who share the land with the animals, but provide resources for economic development. They work to build relationships with the local communities, not just so people will know what to do if they find an orphaned baby elephant (as sometimes the babies will fall into wells; this is a common cause of being orphaned), but also to get information about poachers from the local communities. They provide jobs for Kenyans. You cannot volunteer there; that would take work away from locals; they would rather pay and create jobs and infuse money into the community than take work for free. It is one of the few non-profit organizations where the administrative costs actually serve as an important function of the organization. They also serve as a tourist draw; although we would love to go on safari, we didn't have time this visit. We went to Nairobi specifically to see the elephants, and while we were there, we patronized hotels and restaurants and hired a driver.

The website for the trust is really good; it has a lot of information about the work that the DSWT does, information about the orphaned animals they raise (mostly elephants, but they take other orphaned animals too, such as rhinos, zebras, and dikdiks.), keepers biographies, and other great information.