THURSDAY 28 MAY 2020 - Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has successfully released four hand-reared elephants, Loisaba, Baawa, Lchurai and Nadasoit into their new home Sera Community Wildlife Conservancy.
This is the third elephant release from the community-run Reteti Elephant Sanctuary to Sera Rhino Sanctuary. Sera was selected for its proximity (just a few hours from Reteti) and security (a perimeter fence that keeps at bay large predators, such as lions, and an enhanced security team comprising KWS rangers and community scouts) in addition to the minimal human activity and the current elephant population at the conservancy.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Ngilai Conservancy (Namunyak) aims to rescue, reunite, rehabilitate and re wild orphaned and abandoned elephant calves whilst creating much needed benefits to the local people that live alongside them. Reteti only takes in calves after efforts to reunite them with their family herds fail.
“This brings us to a total of 10 successfully released calves from Reteti,” says Reteti manager Moses Lenaipa. “As the larger Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, we are thrilled to share this with the country and the world. We are the only community-owned and managed elephant sanctuary in Kenya, established in 2016. So, at barely three and a half years old, we feel really proud of what the sanctuary has achieved in the rescue, and release of orphaned elephant calves, and the fantastic partnerships we continue to build with stakeholders in conservation.”
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) scientists confirmed conditions were ripe for the move, after completing an ecological assessment of the area. The recent rains have provided a variety of forage as well as surface water and full waterholes for the four elephants.
Loisaba, Baawa, Lchurai and Nadasoit are all between three and four years old, have been weaned off their special milk formula, gained valuable experience in the bush with their keepers, and are in great physical condition this next chapter of their lives. In the buildup to the move, the elephants were familiarised with their travel crate, and fitted with GPS tracking collars in partnership with Save the Elephants and KWS, who developed the post-release monitoring strategy. This will enable the monitoring and documentation of the elephants’ health, safety, and integration.
“KWS is proud of its veterinary team in Laikipia who working with Reteti team ensured that the calves were rescued in the most humane and professional manner, given the required medical care and ensured that they were nurtured with the highest animal welfare standards while in the captive facility. Their health status will continuously be monitored post-release,” said Simon Gitau, KWS Assistant Director for the Mountain Conservation Area.
“That it is the third time we are releasing young elephants back into the wild in a span of one year goes to show the impact community-led conservation efforts have had in northern Kenya,” adds Antony Wandera, Senior Research and Monitoring Officer at the Northern Rangelands Trust. “Like we did with the first two releases, we will keenly monitor the latest quartet to keep learning and in so doing, continuously improve the welfare of the elephants and the rewilding process.”
MEET THE ELEPHANTS
Baawa, now a three-and-a-half-year-old male, was rescued from Nga’bolo, after he was found abandoned and stuck in the mud at only a few months old. He was very weak when he arrived at Reteti, and it took a long time for the keepers and the KWS vet team to get him back to full strength. Since that time, he has become one of the firm favourites among the keepers and visitors at Reteti with his playful character and friendly nature. He also became good friends with young male Pokot, who was released last year. Everyone who knows the elephants is looking forward to seeing their reunion in the wild of Sera Conservancy.
Loisaba, almost four years old now, was found on a routine ground patrol by Loisaba Conservancy rangers. Orphaned because of the tough drought at the time, he was malnourished and found wandering alone. Always a shy elephant, he made strong bonds with Nadasoit who will be joining him on his journey back to the wild.
Lchurai, another victim of drought, was found in the Lchurai area of Laikipia. She arrived at Reteti stressed and traumatised. However, a bond with Mpala, another orphan who has already been released to Sera, gave Lchurai the strength she needed. Each day after her arrival, she became more confident and playful and quickly became an integral part of the herd. She is now almost four years old.
Lastly Nadasoit, who arrived at Reteti at only a few weeks old after falling into a community well at nearby Kalepo Community Conservancy (Namunyak). She had taken in a lot of water resulting in pneumonia but proved, despite her character which is loving and gentle, to be a tough young girl. She pulled through and became Shaba’s shadow, with whom she will be reunited at Sera Conservancy.
“Nadasoit, Bawa, Lchurai and Loisaba all arrived at Reteti in some sort of critical state, either physically or emotionally,” said Naomi Leshonguro, one of longest-standing keepers at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and the first woman elephant keeper in Kenya. “Together, the Reteti team and the Namunyak community raised them up with care and love up to the point where they are ready to go back in to the wild. In return, the elephants have raised us up too, not just with love and care but also by changing our lives forever with job opportunities and education for our children. I really feel sad to see them leave Reteti but I feel proud of them and the work we have done to see them return to the wild.”
This is the third elephant translocation Reteti Elephant Sanctuary has conducted. Young bull-elephants Warges, Lingwezi and Sosian were re-introduced to the wild in May 2019 followed by Shaba, Pokot and Mpala in November 2019. They are all spending time with wild herds in the area and living without any human contact at all.
“From our tracking data from the elephants released in 2019, we can see that the orphans are increasingly integrating with wild elephants,” says David Daballen, Head of Field Operations at Save The Elephants. “The data shows their range overlaps with wild elephants with whom they share water points and are often in close contact. We are pleased with the progress of the orphans and look forward to watching them grow to mature males and females and eventually freed from the fenced environment of Sera Rhino Sanctuary to be truly wild.”
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary wishes to thank its many supporters, including Kenya Wildlife Service, Save the Elephants, Northern Rangelands Trust, Sessia LTD, Conservation International, San Diego Zoo, Elephant Corporation, Tusk Trust, and all of you. It is your support that makes the work we do and moments like this possible.