Some would say that it is the orphaned elephants, at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Ithumba Rehabilitation Unit, who are the lucky ones to have been chosen by a man who is dedicating his entire life to protecting and raising them.
But really it is a mutual admiration society when one thinks about it. For to be able to serve and gain the trust of these sweet elephants, so dependent on humans for their every need, before their release back into the wild, must be an amazing and exhilarating (albeit oftentimes exhausting) life.
Just ask Benjamin Kyalo who after many years as a keeper at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was the “obvious choice” to become “Project Manager at the Ithumba Orphans Unit”. (It was briefly mentioned that a baby elephant was more than responsible for Benjamin landing the job.)
His days begin at dawn. Kyalo tells the story of the many mornings one of his charges, a perceptive little pachyderm named Kinna, “would blow air in his t-shirt” or “pull away his blanket” with her trunk, all in an effort to rouse him. (Keepers in the elephant orphanage “sleep in the stables with the babies” providing 24 hour care in order to save their little lives.)
To a growing baby elephant hunger knows no bounds and for Kinna her nudges worked and her bottle was soon retrieved (albeit late, in her mind) for feeding time.
Throughout the day there are walks and mud baths, elephant dustings and other forms of play. There are even educational sessions with the baby elephants to point out the plants that are nutritious (& those that are harmful) and to encourage them to forage in their natural elephant way.
So, it is easy to see how Benjamin’s every waking hour is spent among his elephant charges and with the blessing of his “human family” he is able to carry the “passion that he has in caring for his elephant family” a long way. At least Benjamin’s mind is at ease knowing he is able to join with his “human family” whenever possible while “fulfilling his heart” and living the majority of his life among these orphaned elephants.
To some it may just be a job but to Benjamin Kyalo this life he leads among a group of 60 orphaned elephants is more than a “calling”. There are those who have even referred to him as an “elephant whisperer” for this unique connection, this unique bond he has with the species.
“Ex-orphans” routinely come to visit, some with their new babies. (Wendi, a very special “ex-orphan” brought her baby Wiva back to see Benjamin. They are featured in a new BBC Documentary, “Gordon Buchanan: Elephant Family & Me“)
Even wild born elephants have been included among the visitors that have gained Benjamin’s trust. And nothing thrills Benjamin Kyalo more than to see those baby elephants that he helped hand-raise, those orphaned elephants that he gave a “second chance” at life, find their natural place among the other elephants out in the wild.
[As with any “surrogate mother” Benjamin is extremely concerned about the effects of poaching on the species and the imminent extinction of elephants, if measures are not taken to protect and save them. Read his poignant essay by Benjamin Kyalo on the BBC website.]
As day turns to dusk the little elephants and the bigger adolescent elephants form a line heading back to the stockades. It is there that they are encompassed by love and the security that only David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust keepers can provide. It is not the elephants’ forever home. But it surely has become a home that the former elephant orphans joyously return to again and again. And Benjamin Kyalo can take great credit in that.
Images: All from The Daily Mail
See more photos and video at The Daily Mail ‘I See Them As My Surrogate Children‘: Man Who Sleeps With & Bottle Feeds More Than 60 Orphaned Elephants Says He’s ‘Just Like Any Other Mother’ by Natalie Corner For MailOnline
See Benjamin Kyalo Keeper’s Profile
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website
BBC Documentary, “Gordon Buchanan: Elephant Family & Me”
DSWT YouTube Video: “Thank You From Benjamin & Julius”
DSWT YouTube Video: “A Day in the Life of the DSWT’s Ithumba Orphans”
YouTube video by visitor to DSWT (Wendi the elephant mostly toward the end)