After only a few months in Kenya we decided to adopt. Most of you already guessed we adopted a 4-legged baby girl, not one with 2 legs. And our baby-girl weighs around 800kg and still drinks many liters of milk a day. Yep, we adopted Kamok, a 15 month old baby-elephant-girl. Orphaned at 1 day old when she wasn’t able to keep up with the herd as she wasn’t strong enough on her own little legs. If you are interested in her rescue, watch the video below (3.30min). If that doesn’t work click here.
You can also decide to adopt her as well, which in a way would make you part of the family.
As a foster parent of Kamok we are allowed to put her to bed any night we want. As she lives in the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage in Nairobi, we’ve already been once, but plan to do that more often. She, and the other orphans, are simply adorable and it’s great to see they are in such good hands after difficult starts to their lives.
But there are a few more benefits that come with adopting a baby elephant. Once you are a ‘parent’ you are allowed to visit the 3 locations where the young elephants are re-introduced into the wild. The established place to release them is in the northern area of Tsavo East National Park – an area normally closed off to people, but open to ‘parents’. Here they have been successfully re-introducing orphaned elephants in the wild for many years. Some orphans have even completed the cycle and have had babies themselves! The newborns are then proudly shown to their old keepers as the mother elephants bring their newborns to the stockades (the stables) and protect the keepers from the baby (as the new baby is certainly not used to humans).
The other, much newer option for orphaned elephants to be re-introduced into the wild is Umani Springs, located in the Kibwezi Forest, a bit closer to Nairobi then Tsavo East. We were lucky enough to be invited by some of our new friends: Su, Kes, James and Helen, and spent a very enjoyable 2 days there.
Leaving very early on a Saturday morning, to try to beat Nairobi morning traffic, we arrive at the turn off for Umani Springs just before 9AM. A few 100m later we are allowed into the Kibwezi Forest after registering at the main gate. It’s a bumpy, rough track with large muddy puddles in places from the previous week’s rain. But after about 8km we spot the small herd of 5 orphaned elephants in the distance. We watch them for a while before driving the last km to Umani Springs.
Here we are greeted by the staff first and then James who gives us a quick tour of the main house where the communal lounge, dining area and bar can be found, as well as the 2 large terraces overlooking the grassland and the pond. This place is amazing!! A dream home, picture perfect, which we are allowed to enjoy, sadly only for 2 days. There are 3 further ‘houses’, all in the same thatched cottage style, all set in their own secluded location, each with their own bathroom as well as its own outdoor bathroom, private decks and some even with their own private lounge area, all overlooking the grasslands and the pond.
But first we joined the others for a (second) breakfast in the outdoor dining area next to the lagoon style pool. You bring your own food to Umani Springs, but after handing it over to the chef on arrival you don’t have to lift a finger. Peter and his team look after feeding you, you just need to let them know when you want to eat and hand over the recipes (although we had the impression he didn’t really need any recipes). We just had to enjoy it all – it’s a tough job going on weekend trips here!
We had a full program on the first day. After breakfast we were meeting the 5 elephants at 11AM when they get their morning bottles of milk – 2 bottles of 2 litres each! – just a few minutes walk from the lodge. They play in the mud, eat grass continuously, get a good head scratch from us and use trees for the serious itches before they head off into the forest again for some more foraging under the watchful eye of their keepers.
The keepers are with the elephants all day every day and every night, looking after them, taking photos and notes for the diary which is published monthly to all foster parents. But most importantly, they teach them to become a wild elephant again.
We won’t bore you with the details of how tough our weekend was, but we managed to squeeze in some nature walks, sundowners on our own private platform overlooking the Kibwezi Forest, games, swims, watching wildlife, more food, more drinks, more elephant visits and some of us even had time to relax and read a book.
Our gorgeous girl has a long way to go before she can be reintroduced to the wild, but we are confident that with our support (and the support of many others), she, and all her elephant friends at the orphanage, will one day be able to return to a wild herd. Kamok will be in Nairobi for at least another year or 2, followed by another 5 – 8 years of introducing her back into the wild, either in Tsavo East or at Umani Springs.
Elephants currently at Umani Springs:
The first 2 elephants to arrive were Murera, who had a broken hip which has healed but has left her with a weak leg, and Sonje with her leg injury caused by a bullet wound which has left her knee with little flexibility. Due to these disabilities these two orphans were never going to be able to survive in the dry conditions of Tsavo National Park where they would have to walk huge distances in the dry seasons in search of food and water.
They were followed a few months later by Zongoloni, Quanza and Lima Lima, so now there are 5 orphans at Umani Springs. Later this month another 3 elephants are expected to join them from the Nairobi crowd (32 currently).