In 2011 for my daughter’s 8th birthday my sister fostered an elephant in her name. Not just any elephant, but an orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, Napoki.
Napoki was orphaned after falling into a well, twice! Seems she hadn’t learned her lesson the first time and after she fell in the second time, DSWT rescued her and brought her to the Nairobi orphanage.
My daughter is a bit like Napoki, not content to learn the first time; she will repeat a mistake a second time to see if the outcome is the same. (I also learned from Napoki’s caretakers she is a bit mischievous, just like my daughter.)
I met Napoki with my daughter in December of 2011 and fell in love! Napoki, just a baby was in a stall at the orphanage when we came to visit. She used her trunk to pull my arm into the stall and suck on my fingers. I was hooked. Although, my sister fostered her for my daughter, I decided to continue to foster her (as well as several other orphans at DSWT) So, when I was invited to go to Kenya for VI to explore Rabies projects my only requirement was that I got to go visit Napoki.
Napoki has grown up over the past 6 years; she is no longer the baby at the orphanage. She is now an adolescent starting on her journey to return to the wild at Tsavo East. My daughter is also now a teenager and starting on her journey for independence as she reaches high school. I have learned to slowly allow her more and more freedom—just like with the orphaned elephants, slowly they are given more independence to return to the wild.
I contacted DSWT and requested permission to visit the Tsavo East rehabitation unit and to see Napoki. So, off we went to Tsavo East—a long drive from Nairobi, why oh why are their speed bumps in the middle of the highway?? We arrived at our first hotel as the sun was setting and our guides were worried as they had never visited the orphanage in Tsavo. Off they went to the gate to be sure we were in the correct place—we were! The next am off we went to Tsavo , at first for a game drive, but all I could think about was seeing Napoki! We were to be at the Tsavo East Unit by 5 pm when they all return for their milk bottle (just like children, giving up the baby bottle is a slow process!)
Arriving at the rehabitation unit, I was so excited—I think I was acting like a 6 year old and not someone a lot older (I won’t like to say my age, but AARP has long found me!) I told ALL the keepers that my one request was to see Napoki and they informed me she would be in the last group of elephants to arrive.
As the milk bottles were placed out, baby elephants started to run in from the park where they had spent their day. As they jostled for their place and their milk I kept asking, Napoki?, Napoki? Finally, the caretakers said—here she comes. No longer a little baby, she is taller than me and she grabbed her bottle sucking down the milk so quickly while eyeing the next bottle. Then off she ran to her night shelter—but that wasn’t the end of my visit.
The wonderful caretakers took us to visit all the orphans at the Tsavo East rehabitation unit. All older elephants now and all more independent they are still dependent on their human family for protection, shelter and food.
If you think about it, the elephants are just like kids, starting in day care in Nairobi, they move up to elementary school. Then middle school at one of the rehabitation units, where slowly their dependence on their human caretakers decrease, then high school, where they start making new friends in the wild and finally college where they go away but return to visit. And then as adults, they leave their human caretakers but might visit every now and again.
Finally, we stopped by the night stockades of Napoki and I was allowed to go in and say Hi to her! Now, if this was a Disney movie, I would say she ran up to me and put out her trunk and pulled my fingers into her mouth…but no, she is now a teenager, much like my daughter. She ignored me and continued to eat the branches her caretakers had put into the stockade. But no matter, I still love and support her—hmm, just like I love and support my teenage daughter.