At Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa, rescued orphaned elephants are looked after by local keepers from the Samburu community. They are lovingly rehabilitated and raised with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild. The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereo-types and redefining wildlife management. When people realize that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife.
Reteti is also empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities, setting a powerful example for young girls hoping to pursue their dreams. It’s also changing how the community relates to elephants. Schoolchildren who have never seen an elephant before or who were afraid of elephants visit Reteti and experience these elephants up close, and they realize they can grow up to be a veterinarian or an elephant keeper.
In the past the local people weren’t much interested in trying to save elephants. A rescued calf had to be transported to Kenya’s only orphanage, some 240 miles away, near Nairobi. If successfully rehabilitated, the youngster would have to be released into Tsavo National Park, with no hope of re-unification with its original herd way to the north. But now, elephant orphans can be returned to their home ground, where they’ll have a good chance of reconnecting with their relatives.
What’s happening there, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way the Samburu people relate to wild animals they have long feared. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is as much about the people as it is about elephants.
Reteti operates in partnership with Conservation International who provide critical operational support and work to scale the Reteti community-centered model to create lasting impacts worldwide.
I have been named as one of fifty in InStyle Magazine’s Badass Women, a series celebrating women who show up, speak up and get things done. I believe all of us are “badasses” in our own way, but it is still an unbelievable honor to have been included, alongside so many inspiring women, including Jane Goodall, Christiane Amanpour, Stephanie Sinclair and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See the full list here.
Further, for the InStyle August issue honoring spectacular women, I had the chance to interview one of my favorite Badass Women, Sasha Dorothy Lowuekuduk, Reteti Elephant Sanctuary’s first female head keeper and one of the first indigenous Samburu women keepers in all of Africa. I’m so proud of everyone at Reteti where all the women and men are working to not only protect elephants, but are also breaking stereotypes and pushing the boundaries. Read my full Q&A with Dorothy at InStyle.com.
“It’s one thing to know the planet is in crisis. It’s another to see what that looks like.”
I am proud to be a member of WeTransfer’s Union of Concerned Photographers along with Lucy Pike, Mandy Barker, Frans Lanting, Luca Locatelli, & Joel Redman. We are a group of photographers dedicated to using the power of imagery to underline the urgency of environmental concerns. Learn more and get involved at we.tl/UCP
You can read my story on WeTransfer’s Union of Concerned Photographers website here.
I’m humbled and honored to be among the nominees for the 2018 World Press Photo awards for my National Geographic story “Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them.” Thank you to all my friends at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants for trusting me to share your powerful story, to my editors Alexa Keefe and Sarah Leen for giving us the platform to share it and now to World Press Photo, for further casting the light on this important story of community and conservation.
I was awarded a World Press Photo, Second Place, Nature, stories, in 2017 for “Pandas Gone Wild.” In 2015, I received a Second Place, Singles, award in the World Press Photo Nature category for Orphaned Rhino, which is also from my body of work on Northern Kenya, like this year’s prize. This work is a long term examination of the change in the relationship between people and animals in the region.
In the photo above, Joseph Lolngojine, a Samburu warrior turned elephant caretaker, watches over Kinya. Moments after this photo was taken, it was decided to bring her to the sanctuary to try to save her life.
Please have a look all of the World Press Photo stories. Some will break your heart, others may make you laugh and hopefully inspire all of us to work harder to find solutions to our planet’s most pressing challenges. This year, World Press Photos will announce the winners at the Awards Show in Amsterdam on April 12, 2018.
Shortlisted for the main prize are five photographers, Patrick Brown, Adam Ferguson, Toby Melville, Ronaldo Schemidt and Ivor Prickett with Prickett nominated for two separate images shot in Mosul. World Press Photo launched a new code of ethics for entrants, which means that images submitted to the prize have been thoroughly checked before the shortlists have been announced.