January 17, 2019

11:35 am

She's the Elephant Whisperer

When she answered an ad aimed at women to become an elephant-sanctuary keeper, Dorothy Sasha Lowuekuduk didn’t know if she would get the job. For one thing, she knew almost nothing about elephants.

“They advertised that they needed a woman and a man to be elephant keepers,” she recalled to the weekly newspaper The East African.

“At the interview, I was the only woman who showed up. Perhaps if there had been another woman, she might have been chosen instead. So I became an elephant keeper.”

Now, amazingly, she is the head keeper at the community-owned Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants in Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya’s Samburu County.

The sanctuary is very new. “Before the project started in August 2016, the people in this community donated their land for the establishment of the sanctuary.” One of the benefits, reports The East African, “was that it would provide employment to the community. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary only employs keepers from Samburu.”

“The work is hard,” said Lowuekuduk. “You are facing an animal that is highly intelligent, and very strong. It was extremely challenging for me.”

“In the beginning, I wanted to get right in and start feeding the elephants. But you have to start with washing stables, cleaning the kitchen, preparing the milk, cutting branches, especially during the dry season, for the night feeding.”

There are moments that make one seriously reconsider their line of work. There was the time, for example, Lowuekuduk was almost killed by an elephant named Pokot, who hit her four times and would have killed her had he fell on her as Lowuekuduk was knocked to the ground.

“The other keepers ran over to me and shooed Pokot away. I was rushed to hospital as I had sustained soft tissue injury. I was on physiotherapy for a month, and stayed home for two months. I couldn’t move much. My parents were against my return to work here but I came back without telling them. … When I got back, the other keepers told me not to go back to feeding the elephants, but I was not going to be so easily scared off. I went right back.”

Read more about Lowuekuduk’s story at The East African, here.