Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Kenya

Rescue and return to the wild for orphaned elepants..

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary- empowering young Samburu women to be elephant keepers.

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first elephant orphanage in Africa owned and operated by the local community. Through a partnership with Conservation InternationaI, Reteti focuses on rescuing injured and orphaned elephants and returning them to the wild when possible.


Katie Rowe is founder and manager of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first community-owned-and-run elephant sanctuary. There is a growing consensus among biologists that best conservation practices include human communities when thinking about sustainability. Katie is largely responsible for the transformation in the way Samburu communities relate to wild animals they have long feared. While nearby regions of Laikipia experience violence rooted in an ongoing drought and a tense political situation, in the Namunyak Conservancy there is a delicate peace among humans and wildlife.

Katie was born in Sri lanka, before moving to Kenya at a very early age. Katie has founded several community projects, including the Melako feather project and the Sarara beading project, working very closely with the Samburu and Rendille people of the north. Katie also co-founded Reteti, the first community owned animal orphanage in Africa. Alongside her passion for the outdoors Katie has guided professional photographic, horse riding and walking safaris all over East Africa.

Courtesy: Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and Bush & Beach


Reteti is a community-owned effort — with all employees coming from the local Samburu community — to save a critical species. But Reteti isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereotypes and redefining wildlife management. For instance, Reteti provides new employment opportunities for women and those who haven’t gone to school. Most of our keepers, or caretakers, were not able to attend school, and thought that their only future was as a pastoralist driving livestock. Now they can get a job at Reteti, where their intimate knowledge of nature is an asset. - Katie Rowe, co-founder Reteti Eklephant Sanctuary

Reteti is also changing the way communities view the wildlife around them. When people realize that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife. Not to mention that this has never been done before — we’re pioneering a new model where a community is taking it upon themselves to raise and “re-wild” elephants in a community-owned landscape. - Katie Rowe, co-founder Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is situated in the remote Mathews Range, among Kenya’s second largest elephant population. It takes in orphaned and abandoned elephant calves with an aim to release them back into the wild herds adjoining the Sanctuary. This is the result of a widely recognised and expanding grassroots movement of community-driven conservation across northern Kenya; a movement that is growing new economies, transforming lives and conserving natural resources.

While elephant poaching elsewhere in Africa continues at unsustainable rates, as highlighted in the recent Great Elephant Census, the proportion of illegally killed elephants in NRT member community conservancies has fallen 53% since 2012. Nevertheless, there are still elephant calves orphaned or abandoned resulting from a variety of instances that include poaching, man made wells, drought, human-wildlife conflict and natural mortality.

It is estimated between five and ten elephant calves are rescued in north Kenya each year, from a population of an estimated 8,700. The Sanctuary was established in response to demands from the local community, who recognise wildlife as an opportunity to improve livelihoods.

The Kenya Wildlife Service and Samburu County Government have promoted the establishment of the new Sanctuary, recognising the wish of the local community to retain their elephants within Samburu County and seeing local communities taking a lead in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing elephants within their home range.

A partnership between Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, Samburu County Government, Kenya Wildlife Service, Northern Rangelands Trust, San Diego Zoo, Conservation International, Tusk Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Save the Elephants, together with several individuals, has seen the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary established to be able to house and care for young elephants.

In addition, Conservation International (CI) has helped us broaden our community connections and build our capacity to be more effective by providing critical operational support. CI’s engagement is part of the Sarara Initiative, which aims to establish a model of sustainable community-based conservation at an unprecedented level in Kenya — and beyond.

All the keepers are from the local community and are formally trained in the care, rehabilitation and release of elephant calves. An elected board from within the community oversee all operational aspects of the Sanctuary.

This facility also houses a mobile elephant rescue team that works daily on elephant rescue, community awareness and the mitigation of human/wildlife conflict.

The elephant keepers all recruited from within the Conservancy, have perfected the skill of returning lost calves back to their family herds. Since March, they have successfully returned five abandoned calves to their families, and have not yet needed to hand raise any individuals. This is the primary aim of the Sanctuary – with elephants only being taken into care as a last resort.

“Reteti Elephant Sanctuary takes care of elephants while also helping build strong bonds between the local community and elephants and other wildlife. Reteti is the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa. They help rescue orphaned elephants who are the looked after in the sanctuary by local keepers from the Samburu community. These elephants are lovingly rehabilitated and raised with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild. The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereo-types and redefining wildlife management. When people realize that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife. It is giving a the people who live in the community a deep understanding and love for the elephants. They become their greatest protectors. Now, the sanctuary is serving as a model that Conservation International is working to replicate and scale at locations across the world.” - musician Dave Matthews.

Courtesy: Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

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Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them - Trailblazing Samburu communities in northern Kenya have come together to save orphaned elephants by Ami Vitale and National Geographic - May 2017.

Behind the Scenes at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary by Ami Vitale (video)

More great images by Ami Vitale - The Guardian Warriors of Northern Kenya.

To save elephants, it takes a village by LEAH DURAN at Conservation International - November 2017 and

Northern Kenya Through the Lens: A Visual Story of Conservation by Watfairer Travel (video) and

Katie Rowe is the Mother of Elephants in Northern Kenya by Outside GO and