“Reflections on Our 45-Year Milestone: The Elephant’s Life Journey Mirrors Our Own”

As we mark our 45th anniversary, I find myself contemplating the significance of elephants. Just like humans, their lifespan spans over decades and comes with great responsibility. Elephants reach their prime at the age of 45, which is a remarkable feat.In this edition of Field Notes, I looked back in time to reflect on the events that have contributed to making our organization what it is today. It is essential to acknowledge your role in this ongoing journey. Without your support, none of our progress would have been possible.– Angela Sheldrick

It’s often said that we didn’t find the elephants, but rather they found us. It all started with one orphaned elephant and a bedroom. Back in 1987, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (WCMD) in Kenya approached Daphne to care for a young calf who had been left behind by ivory poachers. The little elephant, named Olmeg, arrived in a pitiful condition as he was only a month old and suffering from various health issues. His stomach was compromised, he had a septic umbilicus, serious diarrhea, and his skin was parched and sun-damaged.

Daphne proved to be the perfect candidate for the job, thanks to her exceptional skills in nurturing the species since her Tsavo days. However, nothing could have prepared her for the arrival of a little orphan. Back in those days, we only had makeshift stables and stockades, along with my sister Jill and Daphne as the only keepers. Despite the lack of resources, they never turned down any creature in need, and Jill’s bedroom doubled as a temporary stable. Both Daphne and Jill took on the role of full-time keepers, on top of running the Trust. Today, we have an entire team of keepers, up-to-date equipment, and proper stables and stockades.

The fact that they were not ready actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Olmeg and the other orphaned elephants that came after him. Olmeg was a tricky little fellow who was just born and was reluctant to drink from his bottle. However, we stumbled upon a surprising discovery that would change everything. We noticed that Olmeg would always seek shelter under a tent in the garden as it reminded him of his mother. This is how we came up with the blanket technique which involves providing a surface for the elephant’s trunk to rest on while it feeds. Thanks to this method, hundreds of orphaned elephants have been saved.

After parting with Olmeg, we had not envisaged how he would be the first of many orphans that we would take care of in the future. Little did we know, these orphans would eventually have their own offspring, thereby giving rise to new generations of elephants.

David had a unique perspective when it came to conservation. He wasn’t just concerned with catching one poacher or rescuing one elephant, but rather with creating a sustainable future for wildlife. Daphne shared this vision and understood that it was not enough to save individual animals without ensuring their long-term survival in the wild. As we cared for more orphaned animals, we worked to protect the larger ecosystem they depended on. David often emphasized the importance of looking at the bigger picture and taking steps to safeguard the environment as a whole.

Back in 1999, we had a chance to expand our partnership with KWS and turn our vision of protecting wildlife into reality. This led to the creation of the very first Anti-Poaching Team in the Tsavo Conservation Area, a move that proved to be crucial as Africa soon became plagued by ivory poaching. The crisis was devastating, with many orphans losing their loved ones to the ivory trade. Some even witnessed their mothers being brutally killed.

Our Anti-Poaching Teams didn’t hesitate to take action, working tirelessly alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service and other partners to put an end to this trend. It was a dangerous and challenging time for rangers who had to track down elusive poachers across the wilderness. Despite the risks they faced, their hard work paid off. Although ivory poaching still remains a lurking danger, we are no longer seeing anywhere near the number of fatalities or injuries related to these criminal activities.

It is important to stay vigilant and not become complacent as new threats to conservation arise, such as human-wildlife conflict and bushmeat poaching. No longer are only the large animals targeted by poachers; now smaller animals like dik diks and impalas are also hunted for their meat using cruel methods like snaring or lamping. However, just as we came together to combat ivory poaching, we are now addressing these new challenges with 22 Anti-Poaching Teams and a Canine Unit. Working in conservation requires agility as unexpected developments and mother nature can change plans and even shape the future of projects.

Back in 2003, we had a moment of realization that led to the creation of our very first Mobile Veterinary Unit. Our Anti-Poaching Teams were out on patrols when they came across zebras and giraffes trapped in snares. Unfortunately, many of these animals had already succumbed to their injuries, but some were still alive and needed help. Our rangers were willing to assist, but it was too risky for them without proper training. Thus, the idea of having a vet on board was born.

In the past, there were not enough veterinarians in Kenya’s prized ecosystems. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) recognized the urgency and created the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit to address this issue. This unit made an immediate impact in Tsavo by providing veterinary care and addressing issues such as snaring and ivory poaching. KWS and SWT expanded their efforts and identified other wilderness areas that needed a veterinary presence, resulting in the creation of Mara, Meru, Amboseli, Mount Kenya, and Rift Valley Units. Today, Kenya’s key landscapes have veterinary coverage, including remote areas through the aerial Sky Vets initiative. Over 8,400 veterinary cases have been handled, saving numerous wild lives.

With the introduction of our Aerial Unit, we have taken our operations to new heights – both literally and figuratively. We are in awe of the impact our skilled pilots have every day. Working in tandem with our ground teams, they bring a unique perspective to our conservation efforts that can only be achieved from the air. By conducting daily patrols, they cover vast expanses of wilderness and identify potential threats to conservation efforts, illegal activities, and animals in need that might otherwise go unnoticed. They can transport rangers to remote locations and deliver veterinary care to animals in critical condition. The Aerial Unit plays a vital role in a range of operations from transporting orphaned animals to battling wildfires, assisting with veterinary procedures, and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts. In fact, they have even played a pivotal role in saving human lives by performing emergency medical evacuations.

As I gaze out at the untouched beauty of Kenya’s few remaining wildernesses, it’s hard to believe that they are in as much danger as the animals that inhabit them. Despite living in a country that values conservation, human expansion is threatening these precious habitats. Aware of this issue from the beginning, we have made protecting these areas a top priority in order to preserve them for future generations.

Conservation work cannot be done by a single individual or player alone. To accomplish this huge task, we team up with community members and government partners to safeguard and oversee these ecosystems. Although it can be daunting work that requires looking at the bigger picture, nature rewards us for our hard work. We only need to witness the return of rainfall to Kibwezi Forest or the sight of elephants roaming freely in Galana Ranch to acknowledge nature’s appreciation.

During the period of 1948-1976, David and Daphne faced different challenges while trying to build a future for Tsavo. At that time, the conversation around elephants was very different from what it is today. In fact, some people even suggested culling to control their population. Moreover, orphans were only rescued within protected areas, as there was no sense of community involvement and they were not reported in the first place.

However, over the years, as elephant populations dwindled, people began to take action to save these magnificent creatures. More and more Kenyans have become passionate advocates for their country’s natural heritage, and they are the first to report any animal in need. Not only do they sound the alarm, but they also roll up their sleeves and take action to help. Although challenges still remain, there has been a wonderful shift in attitudes towards the natural world.

At the heart of conservation lies the recognition of the important role that communities play. If we are to ensure a future for wildlife, it is necessary to support the people who coexist with them. Our organization takes pride in involving local communities in all aspects of our work, which not only enhances their livelihoods but also instills in them an appreciation for conservation.

Our employees serve as the greatest advocates for our cause. They work tirelessly every day to achieve the organization’s goals. Just as a Keeper cares for an orphaned elephant with love, our field teams put in equal effort to rescue injured animals or revive a dying habitat. I am constantly amazed by the courage, empathy, and unwavering dedication exhibited by the employees of our Trust. They truly embody the best qualities of humanity.

When I consider the upcoming 45 years, my mind wanders to my childhood. Back then, I was living in Tsavo, where the rich red earth was my playground and I was always accompanied by a varied group of orphaned animals. The sound of a Super Cub on patrol was a constant presence in the air. Looking back, I could never have anticipated where my life would lead me. Despite all the changes that have taken place in our world, the core mission of the Trust has not changed. We still have orphans that need our care, habitats to protect, and wild animals to rescue.

In 45 years, the elephants we nurture today will be in their prime. Despite the world potentially changing beyond recognition for us, I hope that the basics remain unaltered for Kenya’s elephant population. The current orphans will become the rulers of Tsavo, with some evolving into matriarchs and others growing into colossal tuskers. They will become parents numerous times, and even grandparents or great-grandparents. Their legacy will persist, much like it has for centuries, all because a single life was saved many years ago. This is the fruit of several generations’ hard work to conserve the environment. Explore 45 years of conservation efforts.

To commemorate the Trust’s significant 45-year anniversary, we’re excited to unveil our latest publication that pays tribute to our unwavering commitment to conservation. This special edition showcases an extensive timeline of our accomplishments, highlights all of our field projects, features inspiring quotes from our team members, and boasts stunning photographs that have never been seen before. It’s a true testament to the tireless efforts of many generations that have contributed to our enduring legacy.

It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Barnoti. Despite being rescued, Barnoti’s health continued to decline over time. We consulted with veterinarians and attempted various treatments, but unfortunately, his condition did not improve. Recently, he stopped eating and grew weaker by the day. We did all we could to save him, providing IV drips, supplements, and medication, but sadly, it was not enough. On the early morning of April 26th, 2022, surrounded by his Keepers, Barnoti passed away. We have conducted a postmortem examination and await further test results on his abnormal spleen and liver.

Even though our time with Barnoti was brief, we will always hold dear the six months we spent with him. The Nursery herd’s Keepers affectionately referred to him as a ‘friendly uncle’ due to his kind and gentle nature. Despite being one of the larger bulls, he never exerted his dominance or acted aggressively towards the other elephants. His amiable demeanor earned him many admirers, especially among the younger orphans. Whenever he went out to browse, Bondeni, Choka, Esoit, Kamili, Latika, Mukutan, Olorien, Suguroi, and Taabu would follow him because they knew he could reach the freshest branches at the top of the bushes. Instead of keeping all the best greens to himself, Barnoti always shared them with his little friends.

Barnoti, despite his large size, was a genial and caring uncle to the younger elephants. He shared a special bond with Rama and Olorien, who preferred a leisurely browsing session rather than roughhousing. Despite this serene demeanor, Barnoti transformed into a different elephant during milk feeds. During these moments, he and Rama would energetically dash towards their bottles together, often trumpeting in excitement.

When we think of Barnoti, Kinyei, and Rama, we can’t help but remember the sight of them running towards their stables for milk. Barnoti, in particular, left a lasting impression on us with his gentle demeanor and unexpected courage. Sadly, Barnoti became an orphan in November of last year when his mother, Bouenza, passed away from natural causes. At just 19 months old, it seemed unlikely that he would be able to fend for himself. However, thanks to a stroke of luck in the form of generous rains, Barnoti was able to find enough vegetation to keep him going. His two older sisters also did their best to take care of him. Despite the challenges he faced, Barnoti’s bravery and resilience continue to inspire us to this day.

Barnoti had been persevering for almost a year, but the harsh dry season of 2021 took its toll on him. His health declined gradually until he became too feeble to keep pace with his family. This is when we were called in to save him.During his six months in our care, we made sure that Barnoti was contented. He relished every moment of the day, basking in the company of his companions, receiving love and care from his Keepers, and having his tummy filled with milk. Although his time on this earth was brief, we find solace in knowing that he was happy. Furthermore, he has now rejoined his mother in the afterlife.

 

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