Friday, 23 January 2015

... Gorillas in the Mist: Look Out! Pink Elephants on Parade!

I'm not sure how I fluked this but for my flight to Nairobi I had an entire row to myself. This meant 3 seats, 3 pillows, 3 blankets so you can probably guess what I did once I'd eaten my dinner, slept for pretty much the rest of the flight waking merely for a bathroom break. I recall this only ever happening to me once before - on a flight from Vancouver to Vegas so not that exciting really although I had just got off a night shift. This and the fact I realized I had left my North Face jacket in the waiting area with a bunch of important documents in the pocket once I had boarded the plane made it quite the exciting ride (thankfully I got the jacket back, this is what happens when you fall asleep in a chair & apparently board in the manner similar to a zombie). We landed at 325am, I was soon through passport control ($50USD for a visa, bring cash) and on my way to my hotel thanks as ever to carry on luggage!

May be it was the excitement of what today was going to bring or the fact that it sounded like a scene from the Lion King going on outside my balcony as to why I didn't fall asleep until 530am.  I had set my alarm for 730 and thus was once again thanking the Travel Gods for the ability to truly sleep on the plane. Of course chances of that happening to me on the way home when I've got a 28hr 45 min travel day are probably slim but I've got 2 weeks before I need to start worrying about that. I woke feeling pretty great all things considered and once breakfast was done was ready to seize the day.

Today I became a foster mum... of a baby elephant thanks to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which I spent the morning visiting. Major David Sheldrick MBE is one of Africa's most famous and pioneering Park Wardens. In 1948, he became the founder Warden of Tsavo, Kenya's largest National Park. He had to deal with the problem of armed poachers, which he was forced to combat by utilizing staff from the Game Department and National Parks. He studied every facet of the elephants' lifestyle on the preserve, collecting data on their food sources, and, along with his wife, Daphne, rescuing and hand-rearing vulnerable elephants, rhinos and antelopes. He also helped to develop the Tsavo's infrastructure. There were no roads or buildings when he first arrived. He paved 1,087 kilometres of tourist all-weather roads, 853 miles of administrative roads and 287 kilometres of anti-poaching tracks. In 1977 after his untimely death from a heart attack, his wife Daphne founded the non-profit David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in honour of his memory. She herself is a recognized international authority on the rearing of wild creatures and the first person to have perfected the correct milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent orphaned elephants and rhinos. The orphan's project is at the heart of their extensive conservation activities and it has a hugely successful elephant and rhino rescue and rehabilitation program. Per the trust, to date, they have successfully hand-raised over 160 infant elephants and effectively reintegrated orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo. Many former orphans have gone on to have babies of their own in the wild.

The rehabilitation process is long, starting at the nursery where they are cared for by Kenyan elephant keepers and gradually ending with a gradual transition back into the wild. This is done at an individual's own pace over a period of up to 10 years. Head over to http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/html/raiseorphan.htm for an in depth rundown of how it's all done and more importantly why.

Many of the orphans are victims of poaching and human-wildlife conflict. I don't know about you but it continues to shock me to read that there is an insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn. This is despite science going on record and saying that basically you might as well chew your own hair and nails if you believe that the stuff in their horns, tusks and shark fins whilst we're at it has any kind of health benefit. The anti-poaching and de-snaring units work with the Kenya Wildlife Service in protecting an area of 60000 square km. If one elephant is killed every 15 minutes then at this rate none will roam in the wild by 2025. The WWF just today released the news that a record 1215 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2014. That is absolutely insane!!! The only thing that rhino horn and ivory looks good on are the animals who grow them.

"The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embraces all measures that complement the conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife. These include anti-poaching, safe guarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans, along with other species that can ultimately enjoy a quality of life in wild terms when grown."

With a mission statement like that today I spent the best $50USD in my life! Jasiri, a 3 year old male came to the trust as a poaching victim after his mother was confirmed dead in December 2012. I get keeper updates, a map of where Jasiri came from, a foster certificate plus a slew of goodies in a binder.

For more information about how to foster an orphaned elephant check out www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org.  Fostering can be just for a year or longer plus you can foster as many elephants as you like. Also check out the Iworry campaign www.iworry.org , which is based on the premise that everyone has a stake in the conservation of these gentle giants. I cannot recommend taking a trip out to the trust highly enough, be mindful though that they only allow visiting hours between 11am & noon daily (highlighting the fact that this is not about tourism as well as the fact that "entrance" is by donation). An absolutely wonderful way to spend a morning.

As if I wasn't already in cuteness overload, I then headed over to the Langata Giraffe Centre, run by the non-profit African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW). This is a sanctuary for the rare Rothschild giraffe that started as a rehabilitation project to rescue the species by Jock Leslie-Melville. There were only 120 giraffes left in a ranch in Western Kenya when the Giraffe Centre was founded. The programme has had huge success, resulting in the introduction of several breeding pairs of Rothschild Giraffe into Kenyan national parks. On safari in Tanzania I saw hundreds of giraffe but never this close - it's why I invested in a good telephoto lens! Here, however, you can observe, hand-feed or even be kissed by one from a raised circular wooden structure. It is quite an experience. Slobber will be involved, trust me I discovered that all for myself! Staff tell you about each giraffe and are very informative about the species. An incredible experience. 

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