In the mountains of northern Kenya, a Samburu community is doing something that has never been done before. They have built an elephant sanctuary for orphaned elephants, where they rescue and raise them with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild. The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereotypes and redefining wildlife management. When people realize that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife.
Reteti is also empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities and setting a powerful example for young girls hoping to pursue their dreams. It’s also changing how the community relates to elephants. Schoolchildren who have never seen an elephant before or who were afraid of elephants visit Reteti and experience these elephants up close. They then realize they can grow up to be a veterinarian or an elephant keeper.
In the past, the local people weren’t much interested in trying to save elephants. A rescued calf had to be transported to Kenya’s only orphanage, some 240 miles away, near Nairobi. If successfully rehabilitated, the youngster would have to be released into Tsavo National Park, with no hope of reunification with its original herd way to the north. But now, elephant orphans can be returned to their home ground, where they’ll have a good chance of reconnecting with their relatives.
What’s happening here, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way the Samburu people relate to wild animals they have long feared. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is as much about the people as it is about elephants.
Since September 2016, they have rescued over 35 elephants and returned ten back to the wild. This is the result of a widely recognized and expanding grassroots movement of community-driven conservation across northern Kenya; a movement that is growing new economies, transforming lives and conserving natural resources.
Shaba is an 11-minute short film about the sanctuary that will be available on-demand and all ticket sales go directly to support the elephants and their incredible keepers. It will be available until the 31sth of August at shabafilm.org
The film is about an orphaned elephant named Shaba who arrived traumatized after poachers killed her mother in front of her. It took weeks for the team at Reteti to finally forge a connection with her and Shaba soon became the matriarch of the entire orphaned herd. She became instrumental at the sanctuary, caring for each new orphan that arrived and teaching the keepers how to be better caretakers. This is a story about learning to trust those that we fear. Shaba teaches us about love and our connections to all of life around us.