One day in the life of an elephant ‘baby-sitter’

Thursday February 11 2016

Edwin Lusichi at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Edwin Lusichi at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), also known as the Nairobi elephant orphanage. PHOTO| KARI MWITI 

By Kari Mutu

When Edwin Lusichi graduated from theology school, he never envisioned a career as a baby-sitter.

But finding himself unemployed and in need of a job, he came across an unusual work opportunity: Taking care of orphaned baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), also known as the Nairobi elephant orphanage.

“I had never worked with wildlife. I came here straight from school,” says Lusichi, now the head keeper at the DSWT Nairobi Nursery Unit situated in the Nairobi National Park. 

In fact, he had never laid eyes on an elephant before coming to the Trust, as there are no elephants near his home town of Kakamega in western Kenya.

Clad in the green dust coat and khaki-hat uniform of the elephant-keepers, Lusichi, with a team of dedicated assistants, has been raising half-tonne, four-legged babies for the past 15 years. It’s a Monday to Sunday, 24-hour a day job of routine, patience and dedication.

“Every morning at around six, we take the baby elephants out for a walk within the park,” explains Peter Mbulu a long serving elephant keeper at the nursery who works under Lusichi.

“At eleven, we take them out to the enclosure where the public can see them, and we let them play for an hour. From there we bring them back to their feeding and playing pens until five o’clock, when we take them to sleep inside the stockade until the next day.”

Like Lusichi, assistant Mbulu had never worked with wildlife before joining the Trust 14 years ago but he has fallen in love with this job.

“I really love the animals,” he says.

SOCIAL CREATURES

Elephants are naturally social creatures, living in tight-knit family groups. Research has shown that they possess highly developed mental and emotional traits.

The baby elephants at the orphanage are rescued from all over the country having lost their families to, drought, or by getting stuck in mud pools in drying riverbeds or falling down man-made wells.

However, a large number of them are the unfortunate survivors of human-wildlife conflict or poaching that claims the adults in a herd.

Consequently, the rescued calves often arrive in the orphanage traumatised, depressed or aggressive, and it can take days or weeks to restore them back to good health and social behaviour.

Sometimes the young elephants are victims of the bush-meat trade. A male baby elephant called Mwashoti was rescued in February 2014 in Taita/Taveta County with a dreadful snare wound that had almost severed its foot.

Mwashoti and his mother had been separated from their herd, leaving them vulnerable to predators and starvation as he was by this stage immobile due to the injury.

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