I have to tell you about Shaba because she is an incredibly special elephant.
On the 10th November 2016, at 15 months old, she was collected by helicopter from Shaba National Reserve, where her mother had been shot dead, very accurately in the head by poachers. We assume it was a poacher as that kind of shot takes precision and practice. When it is human-wildlife conflict, the injuries tend to be more to the leg, foot or shoulder shots.
As you can imagine the tiny calf was incredibly traumatized, and when she arrived at the sanctuary it took us a long time to gain her trust. We spent day and night, talking, singing, and offering her seedpods, fresh grass... any thing we could.
We did everything possible to win her over so that she would except a bottle from us, but she just didn't want anything to do with us. And we didn't blame her. But we needed to convince her that we were here to help her. Then, one day, after spending an hour or so in her stable sitting in a ring of four tires stacked up, she finally took a bottle and a strong bond was formed. It was a silent understanding that we now trust each other.
Now, Shaba is instrumental at the sanctuary as the matriarch of the orphan herd. She keeps the order, teaches the young ones how to navigate steep paths, and, most incredibly, greets every new orphan who arrives at the sanctuary with a heartfelt and emotional hello.
She has taught us, the keepers, so much too. When we changed our uniform from what she was used to, to a camouflage jacket, Shaba showed signs of stress and anxiety and was charging everyone and everything. Perhaps her mother’s killer was wearing a similar camouflage jacket? We changed our uniform back and she immediately calmed down.
Watching Shaba and her behavior among the other elephants and how they respond to her is fascinating. There is something to be learned from her everyday. She is the anchor of this unique orphan herd and she is instrumental in the success of the orphans around her. We love you, Shaba!
Katie Rowe is a co-founder and Director of RESCUE (Reteti Elephant Rescue Community United For Elephants), Kenya's first pastoralist community-owned and run elephant rescue center for northern Kenya. All of the staff at RESCUE come for the pastoralist community of Namunyak. San Diego Zoo Global supports and assists RESCUE and the Namunya community. In December 2016, San Diego Zoo elephant experts travelled to Kenya to work alongside the RESCUE teams and the orphaned elephants. In addition to San Diego Zoo Global,RESCUE is a collaborative effort with the Namunyak community, Northern Rangelands Trust, San Diego Zoo Global, Tusk, Conservation International, Lewa Conservancy, and USAID (which supports Namunyak).