Warriors who once feared elephants are now their guardians

A midnight snack © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Tucked deep within the remote Matthews Mountains in northern Kenya, Reteti lies within the home range of an estimated 6,000 elephants: the second largest population in Kenya. It is also the ancestral home of the nomadic Samburu tribe. Opened in August 2016, it is the first ever community run elephant sanctuary in Africa and one that is taking pioneering steps in community-based conservation. It has rescued over 52 elephants (and one black rhino calf) to date, most of which have been successfully returned to their wild homes. ‘Rescue and return’ is the ethos of the sanctuary and the mobile rapid response team do whatever they can to reunite abandoned babies with their mums where they belong.

In celebration of World Elephant Day 2021, Reteti have released a heart warming new film, Shaba, telling the story of a baby elephant whose mother was fatally shot by poachers. Tickets start at just $10 and each purchase will make a difference to the lives of the orphaned elephants, their keepers and the wider Samburu community.

I was afraid of wild animals, especially elephants, but now I see them differently. The sanctuary has changed my feelings about elephants.

~ Sasha Dorothy Lowuekuduk, Head Keeper at Reteti

Feeding time © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

An elephant handshake © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Reteti offers a true story of hope in its promotion of a new wave of thinking within local communities. As little as a year ago, a Samburu warrior who came across an elephant stuck down a well might have dragged it out and left it to die before it could contaminate the water. Today, behaviour is changing and more locals are realising the benefits of co-existing with the wildlife. Rather than the traditional view of elephants as ‘giant pests’, communities have become genuinely interested in their well-being, as they can see that elephants bring security, jobs and education. The Samburu people now share in the heartbreak of losing an elephant and the joy of a successful rescue. In essence, they have become their protectors.

We take care of the elephants, and the elephants are taking care of us. We now have a relationship.

~ Rimland Lemojong, Samburu warrior-turned-elephant-keeper

We take nap time very seriously around here © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Furthermore, Reteti has empowered local Samburu women as the first ever female elephant keepers in Africa. Sasha Dorothy Lowuekuduk, head keeper at Reteti, is excited by how the sanctuary is changing the way men relate to women in her community and is unlocking new possibilities. Employment for women at Reteti is helping many men to recognise the need for girls to be respected, educated and not left behind.

It is our happiness that we, the women of Reteti, have shown my community, my country, and the entire world that this job is not just for men. No one in my community believed a woman could do this, and I am proud of myself.

~ Sasha, Head Keeper

The Safari Collection are thrilled that guests of Sasaab and Solio Lodge can visit Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in our private helicopter and be a part of this exciting initiative. Visitors to Reteti can spend time with the orphaned elephants in what is a fascinating and worthwhile experience. Each morning, the elephants head out with their keepers for walks in the bush where they spend most of their time grazing and chasing guinea fowl. In the heat of the day, they enjoy mud baths before returning to the sanctuary and getting fed again. It is mesmerising being so close to these remarkably intelligent and emotional creatures, watching their individual personalities as they roll in the mud or play ball with each other.

More milk please © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Hey! Can I come!? © Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

Locally led initiatives like Reteti are pioneering the way in sustainable conservation. One of the founders, Katie Rowe, explains that the employment created by the sanctuary is one of the main drivers in the change of heart amongst locals towards creating a more harmonious coexistence with the wildlife. Income from just one job at Reteti ripples out to many family members who rely on the salary for school fees and supporting elderly parents.

Reteti is our final hope that people and elephants can share a landscape together. ~ Katie Rowe, Reteti founder

Reteti is only a short flight away from Sasaab or Solio Lodge and makes a fabulous addition to many of our epic helicopter excursions. Alternatively, incorporate it into your transfer between Sasaab and Solio. If you’d like to include a visit to Reteti as part of your safari, then get in touch with a member of our team by emailing us at info@thesafaricollection.com.