Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 1 - Elephants and Giraffes and Crocs, Oh My! (Part 1)

My first full day in Kenya was a HUGE TREAT. I got up close and personal with elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and tortoises. This post only covers the elephants.

My poor, jetlagged body first woke up around 4 or 5am Nairobi time. I stayed in bed until 6 something and then got up. By 8am, Maurice arrived. Kaka the dog bounded into Kifaru House and promptly jumped up on my brand new beige shorts, leaving dusty paw prints all over. I ran back to the bathroom to wash them, having no idea just how pointless it was to do so, given where we were going that day. Maurice prepared me a lavish breakfast of eggs, toast with jam, fresh tropical fruit, Kifaru House's special Kifaru tea, and cereal. I asked for coffee too, knowing that the jet lag would certainly set in at some point and it wouldn't hurt to have a bit of caffeine in me.

While he made my coffee, I tried to sneak my papaya and banana to Kaka the dog because I didn't want to look rude for not eating them. I hate papaya. Kaka, it seems, hates it too. She took it in her mouth and spit it out. "Kaka," I hissed at her. "Eat that! You're going to get me in trouble." I attempted to toss it outside into the bushes. If Kaka didn't eat it there, maybe a monkey would. Unfortunately, I fell short, so there was a half-chewed piece of papaya sitting a few feet from the door and I'm sure it confused Maurice when he found it later.

Peter arrived around 9am and helped set me up on the internet with a plug-in wireless modem and some software he downloaded for me. This area is not wired up to have the cable modems and wifi devices I'm used to in the U.S. Then we set off for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. You must get there just before 11am because that is when they open for tourists. For a mere 500 shillings (about $6), tourists can watch the keepers feed baby elephants bottles of infant formula and even pet a baby elephant or two. I can't remember the last time I took so many photos.

The elephants sleep here, and the keepers sleep in a bed in the same room with them. The keepers rotate which elephant they are with to prevent any one elephant or keeper getting attached to one another.

Peter and I as we wait for the elephants

Here come the elephants!

Hup two three four, keep it up, two, three, four... I hate Disney so why is the elephants' march from the Jungle Book in my head?

"More milk!"

These elephants were all found in the wild as orphans. In far too many cases, their mothers were killed by poachers. You can hardly be in Kenya for a day before you hear elephant-loving Kenyans lament the lifted ban on the ivory trade, which has been a very bad thing for the elephant population here. Elephants are about 120kg at birth. The youngest one here is 3 mos old, and the oldest ones in this group are around 18 mos old. They need to nurse until about age 3 and these elephants would not survive in the wild without a mother's milk.

Because elephants cannot survive drinking another animal's milk and because you'd have to be insane to attempt to milk a wild elephant, these elephants drink infant formula. (Also, a mother elephant does not produce enough milk for more than one calf, so even if milking wild elephants WAS possible, it would jeopardize the lives of wild elephant calves.)

These elephants live much of their days in a wild environment, but they are fed every 3 hours and they sleep indoors at night. Around age 3, they will be reintroduced to a herd in the wild. While it probably is not optimal for them to be so exposed to tourists, no doubt the revenues raised from this operation helps provided needed funds to keep the rescue and fostering program going.

Elephant chewing on a branch.

Branch after the elephant was done with it.

Teeny elephant

Close up of teeny elephant

We also watched the elephants dust bath a bit. Unlike my chickens who roll and flop around in the dust, elephants fling it on themselves with their trunks.

At that point, the first group of elephants left. Check out how dirty my hand is after petting the elephants!

Then, a second, older group of elephants came. These elephants are around ages 18 mos to 3 years.

"I'll do it myself, thank you!"

Ahh, milk.

In this group, we watched each elephant quickly chug one bottle of milk after another. I think I counted them drinking 3 bottles each. The one nearest us would not relinquish his bottle once he was done. Instead he chewed the nipple right off it to make sure he got every last drop, and then spat the nipple out afterward.

Getting a drink of water

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