An exit at Sere Olipi, off the Marsabit-Moyale tarmac road, Northern Kenya, on an enthralling excursion in a country terrain of wholesome sandy, seasonal river beds brings you to Reteti – Africa’s First Community-owned Elephant Sanctuary. This humble village, a home to 13 elephant calves and baby Loijupu, a black rhino is an enclave surrounded by 3,243 square kilometers of Namunyak Community Wildlife Trust which boasts of 5,000-7,000 elephants who roam freely in their natural habitat.
The sanctuary which will be turning 2 years by August 2018 has rescued 38 orphaned or neglected baby elephants plus a rhino since inception. Reteti is Africa’s First Community-owned Elephant Sanctuary proudly owned and run by the Samburu community. Feeding time is one of the most interesting parts of the day’s duties here. Both native and international tourists, lean on the upright fortified massive green logs, jostling for space at an elevated concrete meshed platform, overlooking an open space next to one of the two elephant stables.
Here we watch the royal rumble of the 13-member herd under the leadership of three-and-a-half-year-old Shaba, the eldest of them all, who lost her mother to poachers before she was rescued. On the other side next to the tourists, Reteti sanctuary keepers stand, carrying large over 2-liter capacity feeding bottles each. In split seconds, contact is made, bottles in the mouth and a joyful suckling after which the herd is relaxed and contented.
Sammy Leseita, Manager at Reteti – Africa’s First Community-owned Elephant Sanctuary says that wild animals rescued in the south remained in the south, while those rescued in the north remained in the northern parts of the country to avoid distress amongst rescued animals. The Northern Rangelands Trust in partnership with Reteti has led to tremendous growth in conservation efforts among local residents by working hand-in-hand with the communities through managerial training, lobbying for donor support and providing impact evaluation results to donors.
Reteti has seen a reduction in poaching and an increase in the number of all-important eyes and ears on the ground. “It is women and children left at home and morans grazing cattle across the conservancy who raise the red flag after spotting either an injured animal, abandoned calf or a poaching incident,” Leseita says. Now there’s a peaceful co-existence between the animals and the natives because we heed to their call.
Reteti employs 47 keepers from the community and boasts of two stables where the calves sleep, a quarantine shed for monitoring new rescues, a tractor, and two Land Cruisers, which come in handy when traversing the rough terrain. Reteti is funded by donors including Conservation International, M-Pesa Foundation, Escape Foundation, and Tusk Trust, among others.
For accommodation purposes, Reteti partners with Sarara Camp in Sarara valley and Sarara Treehouses, which have a capacity of 32 beds. The proposed Reteti Sanctuary House, with a 12-bed capacity, will be built on Kitagess Hill overlooking the southern part of Reteti Walley.
With feeding time over, the calves dash back to the open fields. They engage in a game of push and shove, tumble and roll, huffing and puffing in the pool after feeding. They love playing in the sand splattering it on the underbelly, shoulders and on their back. It’s a fun game to watch.
Reteti is a key pillar in northern Kenya with its win-win approach to conservation that communities have embraced. This involves raising community awareness, supporting key ecosystem species, managing human-wildlife conflict and fostering peace to encourage co-existence. This is a community where life is everyone’s responsibility. Instead of killing them, let’s protect them because they are just as important to the world as we are. Amazing work by Africa! #Rewordit