May 12, 2018

They Are Easier to Ignore Before You Know Them

We care for orphans not because we are rescuers,
but because we are the rescued.

David Platt

“My chalky world” by Bahareh Bisheh
Before embarking on our first safari, we are offered a simple introduction to two African animals by visiting the Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage and the Langata Giraffe Center.  Although interesting to some, they are more like zoos to me and I do not generally favor such activities. 

I understand trying to save these animals, but I do not like the aspect of showing them off to the public as if they were circus animals.  I dislike seeing people feed, kiss, pet, shout, or make fun of animals simply going about their daily routines; mud-bathing, eating, scratching, playing, or cooling off.  I dislike even more how people act, pushing individuals out of their way so they can get a better view of the animals.  Elbowing others to get a better picture.  In general, acting and behaving far worse than the animals they are coming to watch. 

The center may offer a worthwhile teaching moment for many people and the money it receives from visitors is needed to keep them afloat, but I wished there was another way.  At a minimum, I hope it helps bring awareness to the many dangers wild African animals face every day.

Elephants:

To date the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has “successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and has accomplished its long-term conservation priority of effectively reintegrating orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo National Park, claiming many healthy wild-born calves from former orphaned elephants raised in their care.”

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust also gives money/support to the nearby community via many outreach programs such as giving school supplies, school trips, sport equipment, wildlife shows, tree nurseries, and radio programs.  Education is an important component of everyone’s future.  Kenya’s wildlife attracts 70% of tourists so it is crucial residents understand the importance of keeping them safe and alive.

Ready to feed orphaned baby elephant who are eager to drink
The main reasons baby elephants become orphans:
  • Drought leading to death of mother from lack of food
  • Falling in water wells and not able to get out (either baby or mother leading to separation)
  • Getting stuck in snare (either baby or mother leading to separation)
  • Human conflicts (being in crossfire and wounded)
  • Mother unable to produce enough milk due to lack of food
  • Old mother with insufficient milk to feed baby elephant
  • Panic stampede leading to separation from mother
  • Poaching of mother for ivory
  • Premature birth and mother not able to properly take care of baby elephant
  • Stuck in mud (either baby or mother leading to separation)
Face to face
A few interesting facts about elephants: 
  • Babies can swim almost immediately, and some have been seen suckling underwater.
  • Elephants can tell the difference between the bones of elephants and those of other animals.
  • Elephants have been seen using branches to neutralize electric fences, use leafy branches as fly swatters and use sticks to de-tick themselves.
  • Even though their skin is up to 1” thick, it is sensitive to the sun
  • Like humans, elephants are right or left handed, thus consistently using one tusk more than the other
  • Their sense of smell rivals that of bloodhounds
  • Their trunk contains 100,000 muscles and can pick up the smallest straw or handle the largest tree
  • Their tusk can grow up to 7” (18 cm) per year
  • They are very intelligent and display grief, altruism, compassion, self-awareness, and playfulness
  • When the male is in must, his testosterone level can be up to 60 times greater than normal.  He can lose over 60 gallons (227 liters) of urine a day as it dribbles out showing that he is in must.
Leading elephants to either eat or play
Dirt to get rid of bugs, use as sunscreen or to cool off – take your pick.
Red dirt and water.  Thirsty orphans.
Giraffes:

Run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, this is a sanctuary for the rare Rothschild’s giraffe. There are fewer than 2,000 wild individuals left in Africa.  It is the only sanctuary in the world within a capital city allowing you to come in very close contact with the world’s tallest endangered animal, the giraffe.  They want to inspire children, youth and communities to interact with nature and conserve the environment for posterity.

Seeing giraffes up close and personal at the Giraffe Center
where you can see them from second floor
As for interesting tidbits about giraffes: 
  • A group of giraffes is called a tower or a journey – they usually live in groups, being social animal.
  • A walking giraffe may seem slow but when you cover 15 feet (4.5 meters) in each step, even a leisurely walk is 10 miles/16 km per hour!
  • Even with such a long neck they only have seven cervical vertebraes just like other animals, each much longer, measuring up to 11 inches (28 cm).
  • Males and females eat from different parts of the tree so they do not compete for food.  The male eats the tree tops, the female lower down the tree.
  • Their mating ritual is a bit odd.  Between their 15 month pregnancies the females are ready to mate only very briefly every two weeks.  Since it is difficult to pinpoint the right time, the male giraffe has developed a behavior called flehmen wherein the female urinates in the male’s mouth.  The smell or taste will let the male know exactly when the female is ready to mate.
  • Their tail can be 8 feet (2.4 meters) long (males), the longest in any mammals.
  • Their tongue is purple and can be up to 21 inches in length (53cm), the dark blue-black color protects it from the sun.  It is used like the trunk of an elephant.
  • They can outrun most horses but don’t run for long.  With their long windpipe, they get out of breath quickly.
  • They don’t have two bones like we do from the knees down.  Their ulna and tibia are fused together, affecting their gate in a particular way.  One such bone was passed around at the center and it had to weigh about 15-20 pounds.  Very heavy.
  • They usually sleep standing, sometimes sitting, but never more than 5 minutes at a time, sleeping no more than 30 minutes per day!  
Tongue used like an elephant trunk
Named Pluto, our safe ride for the next 53 days (we get another ride in Victoria Falls)
!  Roll up windows for better safari views.
Patrick, our driver from Kenya, checking everything


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