Benjamin Kyalo has dedicated his life to the rescue of Kenya's orphaned elephants. Here, he shares tales from the front line of conservation...
Even with the international awareness of Kenya's elephants, is the risk from poachers still strong? What can be done to lower this risk?
The risk from poaching is still strong: an elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes. These might be old wide matriarchs, elephants with calves, or even just calves – poachers do not discriminate. When elephants are killed, there is so much damage – to the environment, to herds, and to tourism.
The best way to lower the risk is by educating everyone about the importance or benefits derived from conserving elephants, and completely cutting off the market for ivory. Demand for ivory drives poaching, so we must educate people in Kenya about the importance of their elephants. At Ithumba, we arrange visits for school children to see the orphans and their wildlife – many haven’t seen a wild elephant before and they then take home their knowledge.
I'm sure you experience many rewarding moments in your job – are there any that stick out for you in particular?
Having hand-raised over 27 orphans, each is imprinted on my heart. Most especially, whenever an orphan that has passed through my hands joins the wild and comes with a baby of its own or brings wild herds to the stockade, I feel content. Each visit by Yatta and Mulika who bring back their wild born babies to see us is rewarding.
Have there been any moments that you found particularly hard, or sad?
When an orphan falls sick and dies due to a condition that we unable to treat, it is always devastating. Young babies are very fragile: if they give up on life there is little we can do. It is always sad to see an elephant die, be it young or old.
What advice would you have for anybody wanting to start a career in conservation?
One must have a love for all wildlife and a passion that has to come deep within your heart. Working with elephants, they can read your heart and tell if you are sincere or not. It takes hard work to gain their love and trust.
Of course your job has benefited and enriched the lives of the animals you work with - but has it enriched your own life too?
it gives me deep satisfaction. From learning about elephants to gaining a surrogate family, it has enriched my life enormously.
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