Katie Rowe is the Mother of Elephants
Katie Rowe is the Mother of Elephants in Northern Kenya
Katie Rowe is the founder of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Here we catch up with her about what it takes to start such an endeavor and how the local Samburu women are playing a role.
Q: Sarara Camp has a long legacy of conservation stemming from its beginnings with Piers and Hilary Bastard and Ian Craig. How does conservation play a role in life at Sarara today?
Conservation is the absolute core objective in our lives at Sarara, alongside community empowerment. Right now we employ 50 people from the local community in projects such as beading, honey harvesting, recycling initiatives, and re-seeding grass and planting trees. And of course, tourism is currently the driving force of the economy, and it doesn't work without conservation. Tourism is a means towards effective conservation in that it provides a huge incentive to protect nature. This, in turn, improves the livelihoods of the Samburu people through healthier grasslands for their cattle to graze upon.
Q: What inspired you to open up Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in the Matthews Range last year?
It was a community driven inspiration, as the local Samburu people wanted to keep northern elephants in the north of Kenya where they belong on their home ground. They are their rightful protectors, and should be the ones benefiting from their elephants through employment and the income tourism brings. The Samburu have lived alongside wildlife for centuries, sharing resources such as water and grazing, they have always loved and respected their elephants. This was their drive—we were just a partner to help them achieve it.
"The Samburu have lived alongside wildlife for centuries, sharing resources such as water and grazing, they have always loved and respected their elephants."
Q: A lot of work must go in to establishing a safe place for orphaned or injured ellies. How did you prepare to open your doors?
It's a heck of a lot of work! Much like having a child of your own, it is hard to completely “prepare” yourself for the task of raising an elephant. We did what we could by building stables and training new keepers from the community, and we worked closely with the Kenya Wildlife service and San Diego Zoo to gain as much knowledge as we possibly could. From there it's an "every day is different" type job and the learning continues. I am sure it will be ongoing learning forever!
Q: Reteti is the first community-owned and operated wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. Why is that so unique?
The Namunyak community is breaking ground and stereotypes with this project; not only by having a community owned and operated elephant care and re-wilding sanctuary (and proving that a community can achieve these sorts of goals), but also in employing and promoting a female presence in the Reteti team. Traditionally, women in Kenya are married young and aim to have as many children as possible (often a number that reaches between 5-10).
Empowering women is going to be what can counteract the increasing pressure placed on this fragile landscape. We are opening a door to a world of possibilities where women are equally entitled to working on their own land, protecting their own wildlife. Reteti is changing the way these communities relate to wildlife, and this brings a sense of pride and responsibility to the women working at the sanctuary. They know that by working with the elephants, their efforts are reducing poaching and human wildlife conflict.
"We are opening a door to a world of possibilities where women are equally entitled to working on their own land, protecting their own wildlife."
Q: How can Outside GO clients and followers help?
Of course, projects like raising and re-wilding elephants takes funding and resources. We love when guests come out to see the project first-hand so that they can help spread the word of our work. If visiting isn't an option, we accept donations online.
We understand that not everyone can make a donation, so I would ask that people live responsibly and be conscious of your actions. These orphaned elephants are with us due to:
Be aware of what you are buying and stand up to the animal trade it is such an unnecessary and unforgivable luxury.
2. Human Wildlife Conflict
Support fair trade organizations and industries that don't displace communities.
Climate change is causing our dry seasons to be longer and harsher, and our rains more unpredictable and destructive. We need to stop poisoning our air and cutting down our trees.
To learn more about Reteti Elephants Sanctuary and how you can get involved, visit RetetiElephants.org.
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Katie Rowe at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
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