23 March 2007

Elephants

I haven’t written, not because of lack of time, as is normal, rather with lack of things to say. My life is VERY boring right now. I get up, get ready, eat some oatmeal J, go to the office, check my emails to see if there is any news on my life, then read reports all day, then go home early (because my eyes hurt), entertain myself for the evening with reading, TV, exercise, or to be honest sometimes just napping, then I go to bed. That is my life. Aaak. I did get some news, positive news that is—seems I will most likely be going back. There was a time they thought it was all over, and I was told to start looking at my other options. So, I did and I didn’t like them. But, now we hear I will probably get back in, it just won’t be for at least 1 ½ months!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you believe that? Oi! So, in the mean time I’ll just do random projects here to try and pass time. Ick.

But, I do have a story for you—like I would ever be without a story! I found something I absolutely LOVE in Nairobi!! The Elephant and Rhinoceros Orphanage!! It’s true, it exists and has so since the 70’s I think; a long time, regardless. It is part of the Nairobi National Park and sits in the park. To be able to visit you have to adopt an elephant! So, I did. They are expensive little buggers, $50.00. Okay, that may not sound expensive to you, but it does to me. But, once you ‘adopt’ one, you can go visit them everyday for a year. They are SOOOOOOOOOOO cute. I took pictures and hope to send then and/or post them soon. They are orphaned for various reasons, from poachers killed their mom, their mom rejected them, they are found lost separated from the herd, someone has taken it as a pet and is now overwhelmed, etc. The entire goal of the center is rehabilitate them (they are usually sick) and then return them to the wild to live in the park. It’s a very specific practice with a HUGE team working on it. Each elephant is with a handler 24 HOURS A DAY!! They have to eat/drink milk every three hours. The handlers even sleep in their little pens with them. During the day, the handlers take all the elephants out into the park. They act like family. The handlers are taught to mimic certain behaviours and help the elephants feel like they are part of a family. The babies are kept separate from the ‘teenagers.’ They interact, but don’t spend much time together. The babies, all under a year, play together and are VERY close. They do not like to be separated. They even through tantrums! It’s true, I saw a baby elephant through a tantrum when the handlers tried to separate her from her friend to feed them. She stamped her feet and huffed!! It was so cute. She finally relented and went and ate.
During the day the handlers all go with their elephants out into the park to play and forage. They have to carry with them the special formula and bottles to feed them every three hours. They return at noon, when you can come see them to get a bottle back at the base and medicines if need be. They know their routine and what time, and will take off to head back when it is time without assistance. Then back out to the park for play, and back again to the base at 5:00pm (when you can go see them) for bottles and bed time. They each have their own little pen, but it is separated not by a wall from the other pens, rather just slats. They poke their trunks through the slats and play and cuddle with each other. The pens have hay as well as branches hung from a local tree the elephants like to eat for the babies to snack on. The ‘teenagers’ are in pens near the babies, but again separated. They too get bottles, but 3 times the amount as the babies and then a lot of hay and branches. They are absolutely HUGE—but of course not even close to full grown. When it is time for them to come back, you have to stand aside as they come RUNNING into the camp. They all know their pens, and go straight there. In each pen they each have a BLANKET! It is so cute. They have one they put on their back and one that hangs from the ceiling. The one from the ceiling is to mimic the mother. They found the babies eat better if they are standing next to a blanket.
It is also true and easy to see at the orphanage, an elephant never forgets. The handlers move around among a few different elephants, so they get use to interacting with different ‘elephants.’ They graduate from the baby pens, to the teenager pens, then out to the second stage of rehab at another point in the park. At the other camp, they also come in at night, no bottles but they go out to the herd they will live with during the day. Many of the elephants have come through this system, and when the handlers go out to take their ‘graduated’ teenager to the ‘young adult’ camp, their previous elephants will remember them. Even if they were in the center 10 years ago, they will come up and snuggle their handlers!! The handlers are accepted as part of herd, and could wander around all day with the WHOLE crew and no one would bother. They are family. Also, the elephants that were in the center say in the ‘teenager’ pens when a baby came in, will remember him/her when they join them out in the park. They greet each other!
If you are like me you want to know, how does one become a handler? Well, you must LOVE elephants and spending your entire day in the park wondering around playing games with the elephants. You must be willing to sleep in the pen with your elephant (babies and teens only). And, the most important thing, the elephants must accept you. You can come and try, but if no elephant will accept you, you can not be a handler. They don’t know why some are rejected, but it happens.
One last random fact about the elephants, between day one and about 3 months they are highly susceptible to sunburns, especially on their ears! In the wild, the babies stay under their mother and in her shade all day, but the handlers try as they may can not mimic being HUGE. So, part of their job is to apply sunscreen! The little girl I adopted actually had a sunburn on her right ear. It was black and red and looked so sore, but the handler assured me it didn’t hurt her. It has just damaged her ear, so it won’t be soft and malleable like the other ear when she grows up. It would affect her slightly, as they use their ears to cool themselves—but she would be fine. When they found her (next to her mothers dead body), she had a severe burn on her ear. They had treated it, but what I was seeing was essentially scarring.
Some of you, especially my sister Kristine are wondering about the Rhino’s. Well, yes they have them too. At the time I visited, there were no babies, but a ‘teenager.’ The teen was at the camp because he had gone blind with severe cataracts. They had done eye surgery on his first eye, and he was healing and waiting for the other eye. His name was Max. There was also an adult Rhino there, who had no health issues. He lives in the park, but every evening comes to the camp and goes into a pen and waits for the gate to be shut. It is likely he has figured out he can get free food, be safe from lions, and humans will come scratch his ears. He stands next to the gate and waits for you to rub his ears. But, he is NOT tame. They say in the morning when they open the gate, they have to run clear of the area, and let him alone as he wonders back out into the park. If the gate were opened while visitors were around, he would probably chase them! Interesting. There are also a few families of wart hogs that like to hang out in the camp area, as they have figured out it is safe. When they have kids, they’ll have them near the camp, but when they are grown they take them out into the park. It’s crazy.

--Well that is my story. I plan to return several times, get my moneys worth of course, and well, they are cute. Before I go, I want to say a few words about my family. I’ve had a lot of contemplating time, and have been thinking of my family a lot these days. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up in this career, considering how I feel about my family. It’s more American I think to leave when you are 18 and only come back for major holidays and major family events. However, for my family this is not the case. We are very close—surprisingly so considering how spread out we have been at times. People I work with generally aren’t ‘family’ people. There are those who are married with their own families, and those families have come a long for the ride; but there are those of us who are single who left families behind in our respective home countries. A lot of my colleagues are okay with that fact; I’m not. I love my family. I love being with them, so how did I end up out here in the middle of nowhere? I don’t know. I do know the following: I love waking up in my parent’s house to the sound of my mom’s mixer and I know I have hot, made-from-scratch breakfast waiting for me. That sounds so good right now. I’m in awe when I watch my mom go from 6:00 am to midnight daily doing things for other people, baking things, and delivering things, etc, all without a nap. A nap I generally need if I join her on her adventures for a day. I love watching my dad work in the yard/garden. His knowledge of botany, farming, and the environment fascinates me. I really love it when it times to trim the fruit trees. All of us always yell at him, because he seems to butcher them. No other person on the planet trims their trees as much as my dad, but somehow they manage to grow and come back and produce delicious fruit every year.
Don’t forget my amazing siblings. My sisters and I can sit on the couch and talk for hours. We will be laughing so hard tears will stream down our faces, and we can’t get up. We will literally be paralyzed with laughter. Their husbands generally roll their eyes at us, and leave the room to do ‘man’ things. We watch brain draining movies together with no shame, though I will not reveal the titles of some of those movies. And my brothers—if you don’t know them, this won’t make any sense, but with my brothers I like watching them get into long, deep conversations about some obscure something. I watch them in awe as they pull astounding amounts of knowledge from their minds. Notice I said watch, as I pipe in generally but steer clear of them when things get to heavy. In general, they know too much, but it is handy to have around. My in-laws. I am SOOOOOOO lucky when it comes to in-laws. Each one of my siblings has married someone I have completely fallen in love with. Sometimes I like their spouse better then them (only when my sibling is annoying me, other wise it’s equal). There was a close call when one sibling almost ‘chose wrongly,’ but in the end ‘chose wisely;’ thank heaven for all of us! In short, we get along great. And of course, my nieces and nephews. I have 10 now. I am a little short on nieces, just three, but love them all dearly. I love listening about their day, playing chutes and ladders, Pokemon, or the ‘latest’ game on play station or Nintendo; I don’t even know the difference. They always win and laugh at my complete lack of video game skills. Nieces and Nephews are the perfect children. You get to be part of their lives, but you don’t have to deal with EVERYTHING. Love it.

Anyway, I love my work and love my family. I wish I could drag my family around the planet with me, but I have a feeling they would get sick of it really quick. The adventure would carry them for a few weeks, but after that—it would be over. They would probably want their own lives and everything. Plus, those with kids probably don’t want to drag their kids to the middle of the desert where there is a measles outbreak. Picky. And, the number of immunizations needed to travel to places I go, would deter them also. I’m sure as my nieces and nephews become teenagers (and for those who already are) my siblings will want to ship them off to me, but we’ll just see if I’m in a compassionate enough mood to raise their teenagers! I could just put them on water detail, where they push a wheel barrel back and forth from a pump ALL DAY with a 100 litres of water in it—that should cure any obnoxious teen. I’ll start working on my plan.

Okay—that is all for now. I hope you are all well. Enjoy some cold weather for me!

Jessica

1 comment:

Clare said...

From my point of view, this is the best post ever. I am dying to adopt an elephant now. And sun burns- wow. Thanks Jess!