Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for Elephants does exactly what it says on the tin!
Reteti elephant sanctuary community united for elephants (R.E.S.C.U.E)
Reteti was started in 2016. Its purpose is to help the increasing number of elephants who are being abandoned, separated, falling into wells or being affected by human-wildlife conflict. Previously, these elephant calves went to the Daphne Sheldrick Centre in Nairobi to be looked after. When ready, they would then be released to Tsavo National Park. While it was great that these elephants were being rescued, the people of Samburu felt like they needed to have their own centre in Samburu. The benefit is that the elephants would not have as far to travel and they can potentially be released potentially back with their original herd.
This board is on display at the sanctuary and tells you the name of each elephant and why they had to be rescued:
The Sanctuary is owned and run by the Samburu people. There are around 50 staff members to take care of the elephants. Currently, there are 33 baby elephants, 4 reticulated giraffes and 2 kudus. 10 elephants have already been successfully released back to the wild. To help raise awareness of the situation and funds to assist, tourists are allowed to visit the centre. The highlight of the visit is watching the elephants being fed their bottles and feeding the baby giraffe.
Prior to the feeding, you are taken to the kitchen where the nutritionist explains how they make up the milk. She explains what ingredients go into the milk and how they measure and adjust the formula for each individual elephant’s needs. Interestingly they have just started using goat milk with the formula and have found it to be pleasing to the elephants. This is great news as it now provides business for local Samburu herders who can sell their milk to the sanctuary. There are many other ingredients that go into the milk. Including human baby formula, honey, calcium, baobab mineral mix, multivitamins and even salt to ensure that when they go back to the wild they are used to saltwater. The exact amount and ingredients depend on the size, age and needs of the individual elephant.
When it comes to feeding time a wheelbarrow of milk bottles is taken to the feeding area and you are shown to the observation deck. The elephants are waiting impatiently at the gate. Each keeper has a bottle with the elephant’s name on it and they have to identify their elephant and give them the correct bottle. This is quite difficult to do when the elephants are running at you full speed, trumpeting and demanding their milk!
It doesn’t take them long to guzzle down their bottle and they then the second wave of elephants are let in. When all the elephants have full belies they are left to play in the water, wallow in the mud and snooze in the shade. The elephants get fed every 3 hours, day and night.
Once the excitement of the elephant feeding is over then come along the baby giraffes (already taller than me). They are also due their bottle and come up to the observation deck demanding their food. If you’re lucky you might actually be able to feed them, but you might have to fight them to get the bottle off them once all the milk has gone!
To visit the centre cost $20 per person for foreigners or 150 Kenyan Shillings for Kenyan residents. This money goes directly into the centre to help with the costs of feeding and looking after the elephants (and giraffes). There are also T-shirts available for sale (like the one I am wearing below) for $30.
The sanctuary is located north of Nanyuki, in the Namunyak wildlife conservancy, Samburu region. Once you get off the tarmac road it is about 45 minutes down a dirt road. The sanctuary is close to Mt Ololokwe, Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs so you could combine it with a visit to any/all of those places. To read more about other places to visit in northern Kenya read this blog post 5 must-see places in northern Kenya.
It is best to tell them in advance when you are planning on visiting, they do sometimes have exclusive viewings meaning you might have to wait around another 3 hours if you happen to turn up on one of these. Also in April and May, the dirt road can get worse due to the rains so email l ahead to check if it is accessible.
Reteti its self has no accommodation. The best place to stay in my opinion for self-sufficient campers is elephant rock, it is just 5 minutes away from Reteti. The elephant rock is the site where the community used to meet to discuss starting the elephant sanctuary. A French artist called Youri Cansell has painted a beautiful elephant mural on the rock. There are no facilities here so if you would like to stay here you have to have everything with you that you will need. For example cooking facilities, water, tent, sleeping bag etc. You also need to arrange for 2 rangers to be with you throughout the night for safety. This can be organised through Reteti.
Non Camping accommodation
If you are not equipped for camping then another option is Lion Caves Camp which is just off the other side of the tarmac road, so a maximum of an hour away. Rooms are comfortable and reasonably priced ($75 for the room plus breakfast per couple). The rooms have a wonderful view over the river and the large overhanging rock is the perfect place for a sundowner in the evening.
I would highly recommend visiting Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, you get to witness first-hand what a united community can achieve, feed cute baby animals and feel good while doing it as your money help them to be able to rescue more animals in need!
Have you been to Reteti, what was your experience like? If you would like to know more comment below and I will assist as best I can.
Let’s talk about safari. Many people have a favourite animal when it comes to what they want to see on safari. A lot of the time it’s lions, leopards or cheetahs, some kind of predator as they have the WOW factor. I understand that of course, it is exciting to see a lion, well initially it is, and then you realise that you have spent the past 20 minutes staring at a pride of sleeping lions when the only shot you can get is on the side of its face hidden in the tall grass.
Don’t get me wrong, witnessing and getting those shots when the members of the pride greet each other or the lion cubs playing or that iconic yawning shot is very exciting, but with lions, it’s usually 5 minutes of action, which you had better not miss, and 30 minutes of sleeping.
The same applies to Cheetah and leopards a lot of the time it’s a shot of them sleeping or resting, preserving their energy for their hunt.
However, with patients, you sometimes managed to get some kind of action shot, for example, a shot of a cheetah with Mount Kenya in the background
Or a scene you can turn into an artistic low key shot:
But the chances of seeing action when observing predators is quite low. I have lived in Africa for 7 years, been on countless safaris and in my lifetime I have seen one successful lion hunt, and one failed hunt, one successful cheetah hunt (a VERY long way away) and maybe 3/4 predators with kills that they had already made. While of course, these were amazing experiences, this is the exception rather than the rule. The likelihood of seeing some action is not really in your favour.
Let’s Talk About Elephants
If action and entertainment are what you are looking for when on safari then elephants are the animals for you. Yes, elephants do spend around 80% of their time grazing but during that time there is always a lot more going on. Elephants live in herds led by a dominant female called the matriarch. The matriarch is the oldest and wisest female of the group, she leads the herd to their feeding ground, to water and generally looks out for everyone’s safety.
Within the herd, there are usually one or two young calves. Depending on the age of the babies they are sometimes difficult to spot, very young calves (below one year) will still fit under their mother’s belly and spend all of their time close to her and usually shielded by the rest of the herd.
As they get a bit older they venture a bit further away and they are endlessly entertaining to watch, especially when they have not yet figured out how to use their trunk.
There will also be some adolescents who still at times play with the younger calves, or tussle with each other, especially younger males as they wrestle to test their strength. The adolescents are usually the ones to show you how big and strong are by flaring their ears and doing a mock charge at you to show you who’s boss.
When these bulls (males) become a bit older (around 12 to 15 years of age) you will find them on the outskirts of the herd. Bull elephants are slowly pushed away to prevent inbreeding within the herd, but they are sometimes reluctant to leave the safety of the group. The outcast males eventually go off on their own and roam alone. They are kept in good behaviour by the dominant bull in the territory who gets breeding rights with the females. Eventually, the young bulls will challenge the dominant male to try and win breeding rights.
Elephants are such gentle giants, you will be amazing at how a whole herd of 2-7 ton mammals can move so silently and quickly through the bush, you can literally lose sight of a 10+ strong herd in a matter of minutes.
It is also fascinating to watch their feeding habits when the adults reach up to the branches balancing on their hind legs to bring down food for the smaller elephants,
They also use their feet to dig up the root of the grass and then hit the grass against the floor or their tusks to knock the soil off, this prevents unnecessary grinding down of their teeth as much as I’m sure it also doesn’t taste great. As I said there is always something interesting to see when watching elephants and the following image is one of my personal favourites as it is so unusual, this particular ele had a persistent itch and found the perfect tree to be able to scratch it:
One of the best times to observe elephants is when they are by water. At the first sight of water they often get so excited they can’t help but trumpet and run towards it. When drinking they are able to suck up around 10 litres of water in one trunk full. At a waterhole, you can often see the social structure in action as the matriarch is the first to drink and decided when it is time to move off. Once they have finished drinking they then enter the water and splash around and wrestle or splash water over themselves to cool themselves down. An elephant is fortunate to not have and predators that are able to take them down (besides humans) so they are able to spend time enjoying life and securing social bonds. I can spend hours watching elephants and never get bored.
This is a great way to observe elephants as it allows you to get close without being obtrusive or putting yourself or the elephants in danger. It also gives great opportunities for unique low angle photos.
Recently a herd of elephants camp to the camp to visit. The waterhole at camp had just been fixed and the elephants could obviously sense this and they were coming to get the first taste. The herd walked past the entrance to the lodge and followed the fence around until they got to the water. This gave me a fantastic opportunity to be on foot (safely behind an electric fence) while they walked past. I was lying on the ground to ensure the best angle to give the elephant the status it deserves. From a game viewer, the elephant is undeniably impressive but from the ground level, there is nothing more intimidating than a herd of elephants marching less than 50 yards away from you.
Once around the other side of camp, they made straight for the waterhole and spent around an hour drinking, feeding and cooling off, much to the guest delight at they had their afternoon tea. Here are some of the shots (available as fine art photographic prints) taken on the day:
If elephants are your favourite animals are elephants and you are looking for the best places to see elephants then I recommend 2 places, in particular, one is Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, for that luxury trip you can stay at Tarangire Tree Tops and Chobe National Park in Botswana. I personally have been to both of these places (Tarangire on many occasions) and have never been disappointed.
With regards to reading more about the social structure of elephants or just learning a bit more about them from an expert then I recommend reading ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ by the late Lawerence Anthony it’s an amazingly touching story about his life with a herd of troublesome elephants on his conservancy in South Africa:
The sequential book ‘An Elephant in my Kitchen’ by Lawrences’ wife Françoise Malby-Anthony is the story of how she continues her late husband’s conservation work, expanding to caring for not only orphaned elephants but also orphan rhinos, and the consequential lessons she learnt about ‘love, courage and survival’ is also definitely worth a read.
Check out other images available for purchase as fine art, sustainable photographic prints delivered straight to your door:
Only 4 days left to purchase your beautiful print and make a positive contribution to wildlife conservation
Prints for Wildlife is an initiative set up by Pie Aerts and Marion Payr in connection with African Parks. The aim of the initiative is to increase funds for Wildlife conservation and community projects due to the immense deficit caused by Covid. The overnight closure of the international tourism sector in March 2020 has led to a profound economic deficit which has a substantial impact on wildlife and the connected communities. ‘It is estimated that 24 million Africans depend on tourism for their livelihood’ (https://www.printsforwildlife.org/pages/about).
Prints for Wildlife brings together 170 generous photographers including famous photographers David Lloyd and Beverly Joubert who have kindly donated their images to be sold to wildlife lovers around the world, with 100% of profits going directly to the non-profit organisation African Parks. African Parks are responsible for managing 19 National Parks and protected areas in 11 countries. Their aim is to rehabilitate and effectively manage wildlife areas in partnership with governments and local communities. Watch this video to find out more about African Parks and their achievements.
The initial Prints for Wildlife launched in July 2020 raised $660,200 for African Parks. This money has helped African Parks, not only to protect the African Wildlife including gorillas, Rhino, elephants, lions and many other species, it also supports local communities. African Parks have ensured they are able to continue providing education, medical service and sustainable livelihoods to vulnerable communities surrounding wildlife areas. If you would like to get your hands on one of the beautiful prints while at the same time contributing to a very important cause then you can head to their website to select your print. Images are 30 x 45cm, printed on sustainable paper and limited to 100 print editions. If you buy 3 or more prints then you get free delivery. However, the fundraiser ends on the 11th of August so you don’t have long to get your orders in!
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