The Mathews mountain range is a wilderness as tough and unforgiving as it is breathtaking. An aerial view might suggest that there isn’t much going on in this remote part of Samburu County, yet tucked away at the foot of the Kitages Hills a remarkable story is unfolding.
A community who once feared elephants has just celebrated two years of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, the only community-owned elephant sanctuary in Africa. Now home to 13 elephant calves and one rhino calf, Reteti is challenging traditional notions of wildlife sanctuaries, transforming local attitudes towards elephants and leading the way for more establishments like it.
Reteti is owned by Namunyak Community Conservancy, one of the first members of NRT. Namunyak and its surrounds are home to Kenya’s second largest elephant population, who continue to face threats from poachers and conflict with humans over shared resources. While community conservancies work to tackle these threats, elephant calves are still found orphaned or abandoned for a number of reasons. Before Reteti was established in 2016, calves lucky enough to be rescued had to be taken to Nairobi, around 400 kilometres away from Namunyak.
Now, thanks to the benefits communities are starting to feel from conservation efforts, people that once saw no advantage in sharing the landscape with elephants now actively support Reteti in finding and rescuing elephants calves across northern Kenya. The Reteti team, all made up of local Samburu staff, have rescued 38 baby elephants since the sanctuary was set up, and managed to reunite many lost calves with their herds before rescue was needed.
Reteti has two purpose-built stables where the calves sleep, watched over 24/7 by a dedicated group of keepers. Keepers who, by their own admission, once feared elephants and were apathetic to their plight. Now – they describe the calves in their care as their own children.
Reteti is open for local people to come and visit, helping to break down fear and stereotypes. As well as this, it is helping families to connect elephants to better livelihoods, as it is linked to Sarara Lodge which brings in revenue to Namunyak Conservancy in the form of bed night fees and conservancy entry tariffs. As with all NRT conservancies, revenue from tourism is split 60/40 – with 60% going towards conservancy operating costs and 40% going towards projects deemed a priority by the community – such as healthcare facilities, education bursaries of water pumps.
“Reteti is a key cornerstone not only for raising community awareness but also a pillar in the support of key ecosystem species, managing human-wildlife conflict, fostering peace to encourage co-existence. A win-win approach that communities of the north of Kenya have embraced,” says Sammy Leseita, Reteti’s manager.