Caught in the Middle: Orphan Elephants Rescued by Tanzanian Government Collaboration
West Kilimanjaro, November 14, 2014
Amidst the international outrage and disgust following the EIA’s Nov 4th expose “Vanishing Point: Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants” linking Tanzania’s thriving illegal ivory trade to top level government officials ((Evironmental Investigation Agency, "Vanishing Point - Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania's Elephants" (EIA, November 2014), http://eia-international.org/vanishing-point-criminality-corruption-and-the-devastation-of-tanzanias-elephants.)) an alternate story of cooperation, compassion and hope for Tanzania’s future wildlife management emerges.
Frustrations over land disputes and grazing rights boiled over on Friday, November 14th, as angry pastoralists clashed with government forces and attacked a private wildlife lodge outside of West Kilimanjaro, looting storages and setting buildings and vehicles on fire. ((“Maasai Mob Torches Tourist Camp,” accessed November 17, 2014, http://www.thecitizen.co.tz/News/Maasai-mob-torches-tourist-camp/-/1840392/2524220/-/f1sdxhz/-/index.html.)) Caught in the middle of the uproar were two young female elephants, Nkarsis and Riziki.
Orphaned at an early age, casualties of Tanzania’s catastrophic poaching epidemic, Nkarsis and Riziki were raised for the last ten years under the professional and loving care of Dirk and Ricarda Erdmann, specialist elephant caretakers from Germany, who previously worked with American environmentalist and entrepreneur Randall Moore in Botswana.
A collaborative rescue mission…
Alerted about the fires, looting and shooting on the Ranch by fellow conservationists Joerg and Marlies Gabriel, Dirk Erdmann immediately contacted the mwene kiti (mayor) from Kalimaji and elephant caretakers to understand the situation and imminent danger zone in which Nkarsis and Riziki found themselves. What followed was an unprecedented and successful rescue operation initiated and led by the Tanzanian government and supported by various national and international wildlife organizations and activist.
In collaboration with, and acting under the instructions from the Arusha authorities of the Wildlife Department (WD), an immediate effort was launched to assist with a rescue operation that entailed walking the two elephants out of danger and into a safety zone, over 15 hours away.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, together with WD authorities, the special KDU anti-poaching unit, the Gabriel’s, and under the leadership of African Wildlife Trust’s Pratik Patel who led the rescue operation, Dirk and Ricarda were reunited with their former charges and tasked with accompanying the young elephants on their hazardous trek to safety. It was a beautiful moment for everyone to witness when the two frightened elephants recognized Dirk’s voice calling them, and heard their answering trumpet call in return, followed by Nkarsis and Riziki appearing unharmed among the massive damage of their former home.
The walk to safety took over 15 hours, on a path between the two mountains of Kilimanjaro and Meru. By noon, the group had reached the safety of Sanya Plains, and the WD authorities, together with Pratik handed the rescue operation over to Arusha National Park’s anti-poaching team under the capable leadership of Mr. Shayo, chief warden of this special unit, where the exhausted elephants received shelter, food and water.
The hazards ahead…
Currently young Nkarsis and Riziki are residing on the borders of the Arusha National Park together with Dirk Erdmann and a few caretakers, awaiting further instructions from the Wildlife Division. While both elephants escaped the violence unscathed, it is increasingly apparent that the traumatic ordeal took a heavy toll, most notably by their unwillingness to leave Dirk out of sight. Further, the broader situation leading to the violence has not yet been defused, and the current shelter offered to Nkarsis and Riziki is of a provisional nature only. Food for the elephants is provided ‘by request’ only, and contingent on adequate funding, as is the necessary continuation of Dirk’s expertise.
In response to their tenuous situation, several NGOs are launching an urgent call to action in the hope of raising funds to provide a stable home for the young elephants. This action plan includes the need for:
• An elephant shelter against the unpredictable weather changes, which would act as a substitute for the missing family herd in general
• Funds for a team of caretakers, including shelter, provision, salaries and their training
• Dry food for the elephants
• Support, salaries and provisions for expert caretakers to conduct trainings and educational workshop on the sustainable co-habitation of communities and elephants