Kenya’s Blue-Tongued Giraffes, Adopted Elephants and Tsavo Park’s Man-Eating Lions

in Kenya

Langata Giraffe Sanctuary:

Even without U.S. visitors coming to Nairobi, Wendy and Rick wanted to visit the famous Langata Giraffe Sanctuary on the outskirts of Nairobi near the town of Karen (named after Karen Blixen of Out of Africa Fame).  It was founded in the early 1970s by Jock Leslie-Melville, the Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, when he and his wife Betty captured a baby giraffe to start a program of breeding giraffes in captivity at their home in Langata – now the present center. Since then, the program has had huge success, resulting in the introduction of several breeding pairs of Rothschild Giraffe into Kenyan national parks.  An education aspect has been added so that many Nairobi school children visit as well as anyone who wants to look eyeball to eyeball at a giraffe from a 2nd story platform and be able to feed them.  Giraffes really do have blue tongues, and

boy, are they sticky…

Adopted Elephants

Another animal rescue operation that attracts Nairobi visitors is Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage on the edge of Nairobi National Park.  It is funded by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which is a small charity established in 1977 to honor the memory of famous Naturalist, David Leslie William Sheldrick, MBE. Founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, David Sheldrick served from its inception in 1948 until his transfer to Nairobi in 1976 to head the Planning Unit of the newly created Kenya Wildlife Conservation & Management Department. David died 6 months later, but his living legacy is the excellent systems he installed for the management of Tsavo and Kenyan wildlife in general, particularly in the sphere of wildlife husbandry and ethics.  His wife, Dame Daphne Sheldrick has extended his legacy with the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, raising global awareness (featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2012) of the plight of thousands of elephants killed each year for ivory mainly shipped to Asia.

Early in their Nairobi residence, Rick and Wendy visited Sheldrick Orphanage, which is open one hour each day to allow the public to view baby orphaned elephants (up to two years old) playing and being bottle-fed by their handlers.  The rest of the baby elephants’ days are spent wandering Nairobi National Park with their handlers nearby so that once the orphans are two, they will be somewhat used to being in the wild.  At that time, the little elephants are transferred to Tsavo East National Park where there is an elephant “halfway-house”.  The goal is over time—sometimes up to ten years–to encourage the orphans to join a wild herd there.  This is one of the few, if not only, successful efforts to reintroduce elephants back into the wild.  Sheldrick orphans which have previously been integrated into Tsvao’s wild herds, have actually helped integrate the newbies.  But until the newbies become part of a herd, they can always come “home” for food and love (from the handlers living there).

On Rick and Wendy’s first visit, they fostered two baby elephants, Shimba (boy) and Lempaute (girl), which they had observed.  For US$50 per animal per year, the foster parent receives regular updates about the foster elephant and can arrange a private visit when in Nairobi.  In October 2007 when their son and daughter visited Kenya, the whole family arranged to hang out with Shimba and Lempaute, which of course, was photo-documented.  In 2009, Wendy and her friend Carolyn visited Sheldrick where they saw Lempaute right before her trip to Tsavo (Shimba was already there), and met a just-rescued tiny rhino, the size of a small dog.  Wendy also was playing with another baby elephant which kept putting her hand in its mouth.  After biting down on Wendy’s finger (really a hard pinch which stopped after a loud yelp), Wendy realized that her pale, white arm and extended pink fingers must have resembled the feeding bottle.  The poor elephant must have been frustrated that no milk was emerging so just was trying harder.  No harm, no foul, but Wendy will not be sticking her hand into an elephant’s mouth again.

Tsavo National Park’s Man-Eating Lions

Speaking of Tsavo East where the Sheldrick orphan elephants eventually live, Wendy and Rick accompanied their friends Anna and Greg on another adventure, this time to stay at the Tsavo West National Park’s warden house that was for rent.  Tsavo is home to the infamous “man-eating” lions that were documented in a book and later a very scary movie, Ghosts and the Darkness authored by Colonel John Patterson.  More details can be found in the book or at Wikipedia under Tsavo Man-Eaters or http://www.lionlamb.us/gandd.html.  But in essence, in the late 1890s while Kenya as a British colony was building a railroad from Mombasa across Kenya to Kampala, Uganda, two man-eating lions terrorized the workers.  Colonel Patterson who was supervising the building of the Tsavo River Bridge section of the railway, took several months and many failures but killed the pair after they reputedly ate tens of workers.  The skins remained as his rugs for many years and are now in Chicago’s Field Museum.  Analysis done on these and other Tsavo man-eating lions has proven them unique: adult male lions with little or no mane.

In any case, Wendy had always wanted to visit Tsavo because of the book and movie.  The second floor of the warden’s house had a balcony for viewing the animals that would come to the two nearby watering holes.  During their weekend there, the Walleighs saw Cape Buffalo, elephants, and many other animals come to the watering holes.  Supposedly after 11pm the first night, other friends heard lions growling, but no one ever observed any Tsavo lions.  Probably just as well…

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