Help Protect Elephants at The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and Win a 7-day Kenyan Safari!

In the remote Matthews mountain range in Kenya, the country’s second largest elephant population are under the tutelage of community-run The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, which endeavours to reintroduce orphaned baby elephants to their herds. Reteti is about protecting elephants, but it’s also about empowering people. The local Samburu have recognised the important role of elephants both in protecting their fragile ecosystem, and improving the region’s economy.

Photojournalist Ami Vitale has paired up with musician Dave Matthews to produce this film about The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary featuring his song ‘Mother of Africa.’ If Reteti looks like a place you might like to support—and if you’re lucky, visit—all it takes is a $10 contribution to enter into the prize draw for a 7-day Kenyan safari along with tickets to see Dave Matthews at the Hollywood Bowl—and more! For more information on the prize draw see here. I spoke with Ami Vitale about elephant conservation, The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and her collaboration with Dave Matthews. 

Tell us more about the competition you’re running—what will each entrant’s contribution mean for Reteti? What can we win?
“For a $10 contribution, supporters are entered into a Prizeo Sweepstakes. The grand prize is two trips. One to see Dave Matthews Band in concert on the final date of his summer tour at the Hollywood Bowl where the winner gets to meet Dave and will receive a custom-made Rockbridge guitar that features a custom inlay of an elephant hand-drawn by Dave. Then, for the second trip, the winner will receive a 7-day luxury safari in Kenya to visit Reteti, Sarara Camp and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, among other incredible locations.

Every contribution to Reteti matters and helps support their vital work. It will help pay the wages of the incredible staff who give their everything to these orphans. It buy milk, medicine, ointments, blankets and uniforms. One tin of milk costs $7.50. The sanctuary goes through more than 60 tins per day. Contributions makes it possible to airlift an elephant from the well he or she was trapped in, to the sanctuary, often the only way to get them there. There is so much need there, and every dollar counts. Do note, that you’re not limited to a $10 contribution. The more contributions you make, the better your chances of winning.”

How did you come to make this short film in collaboration with musician Dave Mathews?
“I met Dave in the middle of a blizzard in North Dakota at the Standing Rock protest. I knew he has a passion for wildlife and has tirelessly worked as an advocate for conservation so I told him about this place in Kenya and asked if he would visit and bring his family. It says a lot about Dave that he would trust a stranger and fly to Africa to see this work.”

Why are elephants currently threatened?
“Elephants are threatened for a variety of reasons. Loss of habitat and land encroachment, as well as human-life conflict are major causes for the decline in elephants. Poaching, the killing of elephants for their tusks, results in a tremendous number of deaths for the iconic species.100 elephants per day are killed for the illegal ivory trade, according to a number released by the U.N. in 2015. Finally, climate change is having a devastating effect on elephant populations. Among other things, elephants need huge amounts of water and climate change is making rains more erratic and in some places, more scarce. northern Kenya is now in its 6th year of drought. Many of the orphans at Reteti are there due to drought related causes.”

Are you optimistic about their future?
“Yes I am. While much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between heavily armed poachers and increasingly militarized wildlife rangers, very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the front-lines of the poaching wars and the incredible work that is being done to strengthen them. These communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals. Where these conservancies are in place, poaching has dramatically decreased. In northern Kenya, not one rhino has been poached in the last two years. And while poaching is increasing in other countries, elephant poaching dropped 43 percent between 2012 and 2014, thanks largely to a community that understands the value of these animals alive.”

What can we do to help?
“Donating to reputable organizations is a huge way to help. Some of the ones I recommend are Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and The Northern Rangelands Trust in Northern Kenya. They have their feet on the ground and the knowledge in some of the best ways to support conservation. What we consume and habitat loss are the biggest problems, so fighting to protect the last open spaces from development and giving indigenous communities livelihoods that make wildlife valuable to them alive is important. Look too to your local organizations and see what you can do. There is much to do locally to protect habitat and the people living in those last great undeveloped spaces matter.

Another thing to do it keep talking about these issues – with your friends and on your social networks. Follow the orgs working in the field and share their work. Learn what progress has been made and what needs to be done and make it part of your discussions. You can also contact organizations locally and see if they have volunteer needs, again, to get involved in the day to day. Be aware and be vocal, and if you’re in a position to do so, donate.”

How were you introduced to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and for how long have you been working with them?
“I began this story in 2009 when I heard about a plan to airlift four of the last Northern White Rhinos from a zoo in the Czech Republic back to Africa. When I saw these hulking, gentle creatures surrounded by smokestacks and factories in the Dvur Kralov zoo outside of Prague, it seemed so unfair that we have reduced an entire species to this. They survived for millions of years but could not survive mankind. The move was a desperate, last ditch effort to save an entire species.

Today there are only two of these rhinos left in existence. Northern white rhinos are now functionally extinct. Even if much-hyped innovations like rhino IVF are perfected in the future, it will likely come too late to save this sub-species. It broke my heart and stopped me in my tracks. I immediately started looking for the solutions and a way forward which led me to the work of the Northern Rangelands Trust. And for the past 9 years Ive been getting to know these communities and learning about the incredible work they are doing.”

What does Reteti do for elephant conservation?
“Reteti Elephant Sanctuary takes care of elephants while also helping build strong bonds between the local community and elephants and other wildlife. Reteti is the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa. They help rescue orphaned elephants who are the looked after in the sanctuary by local keepers from the Samburu community. These elephants 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. It is giving a the people who live in the community a deep understanding and love for the elephants. They become their greatest protectors. Now, the sanctuary is serving as a model that Conservation International is working to replicate and scale at locations across the world.”

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