Unforgettable Heroes: A Groundbreaking Elephant Rescue Operation

In October, the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary, a community-owned and run elephant sanctuary in Kenya, conducted an elephant rescue operation, saving a mother and her calves from a well with dramatic results. These rescue operations are key to protecting, rescuing, rehabilitating elephants within their home range. 

Last month, Reteti Elephant Sanctuary – the first community-run elephant sanctuary in East Africa, if not the entire continent – was involved in one of the toughest and most intricate rescues.

Established in August 2016 in Namunyak Community Conservancy – now Ngilai, Kalepo and Nalowuon conservancies, which are home to some of the largest elephant populations in the region, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary employs over 61 people, most of whom are drawn from the Ngilai community of Namunyak. The sanctuary is also

Reteti aims to reunite lost or abandoned elephant calves with their herds, responding to calls from rangers and community members across the landscape. Failing successful reunion with their herd, the team will take the calf to the purpose-built sanctuary, where it will be hand-reared by the team of passionate keepers until it is strong enough to go back to the wild.

On a late Friday evening in October, the Reteti team received such a call from a community herder in Milgis area that not one, but four elephants were stuck in a community well: a mother with her three calves including a one-week old.  When the team received word, they were in the midst of another elephant rescue in Kalepo; where they managed to reunite a calf with its mother. Immediately after the reunion – the team left for Milgis.

Tragically upon arrival, one of the calves had already died and discovered that the family had already been stuck in the well for two days, as evident by the mud that had dried around them. This area where they were discover was known to have numerous lions – so it was a miracle that the mother and two of her calves were still alive.

It was clear that she had given up hope – having already lost one of her calves, and her smallest one being out of reach, behind her. 

At the start of the rescue operation, she was violent and aggressive. But, after the first and second calf were removed safely, she became more comfortable, started drinking water from the well and even helped ‘push’ the tractor scoop.

Despite various attempts to reunite them, she ran off into the bush with the other. It’s not known why she rejected the calf. Perhaps trauma or confusion – there’s so much we have yet to learn. The baby is now safe and sound at Reteti, where she will receive the very best care.

One thing is certain, that if it had not been for the community’s action and the incredible team work on this elephant rescue, it is most likely all of the elephants would have died.

Operating in and around the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) conservancy areas, the Reteti rescue team works closely with conservancy rangers, local communities, and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Since 2019, 10 of Reteti’s rescued elephants have been released into the Sera Rhino Sanctuary to begin their journey back to the wild. Elephants have been fitted with GPS tracking collars, and are being monitored both remotely and by community scouts on the ground – who report that the calves are having positive interactions with wild elephant herds.

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