The Orphans of Reteti, 2020

Medium: Pigment Print, Platinum Palladium, Silver Gelatin
Year: 2021

The idea of this image came to life while enjoying a sundowner on Borana with Michael Dyer (Managing Director, Borana Conservancy) one evening. After discussing the crazy dream of an idea, I couldn't sleep thinking about how this would even be possible to pull off or how I would even get access to make such a photograph. I thank Michael Dyer and Ian Craig (NRT, Director of Conservation) immensely for their introduction to the delightful community at Reteti. Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first community-owned and run elephant sanctuary in Africa. It was an honour to partner with them for this shoot, and I thank them dearly for their patients in the months of planning it took to make this a reality. The sanctuary rescues orphaned, abandoned, injured, and trapped baby elephants. After being safely rescued, the journey back to the wilderness in which they were found begins immediately. Over a roughly three-year period, they will learn all the necessary survival skills and become strong enough to venture freely once again. I interpret the rock painting by the talented street artist Mantra as a symbol of remembrance for the orphaned elephants' lost parents. Thanks to the dedicated community at Reteti, these orphans now have a second chance in life. The elephant depicted on the rock was a well-known individual to the local community, and many members visit the rock to remember him. Mantra painted him using a photograph taken by the fantastic NatGeo photographer, Ami Vitale. The logistics required to make this moment happen were not straightforward, and in fact, none of the elephants had ever been to the rock, as it is located a few kilometres from the sanctuary making this a first for all involved. The orphans are on a strict feeding schedule; therefore, we timed the journey to the rock so that the feeding would take place on arrival allowing a 20-minute window before the elephants would have to return in time for the next feed. Of course, there was no guarantee the elephants would face the correct direction or line up beautifully as I had imagined in my dreams. This truth hit home on the first attempt as a few of the elephants walked straight towards me and others walked out of the frame before any composition had presented itself. We got very close to a perfect shot on one occasion, but one elephant was turned sideways, blocking the face of another elephant, ruining the composition. For our final attempt, Yusuf (Head Keeper) came up with an idea. We collected some acacia seeds (a favourite treat for the elephants) and spread them out in a line so that all 14 elephants could eat simultaneously. They formed a line and thankfully chose to face me and not the rock creating an opportunity that lasted for less than 1 minute. The moment I took this frame remains one of my most treasured memories of all. Moments later, we celebrated all together by eating honey collected by one of the keepers from a nearby tree. I will always treasure the moments I shared with the community at Reteti, and I recommend all to visit, if ever in Kenya. It is a project where the elephants benefit the community as much as the community helps the elephants. This rock has historically been a hideout for elephant poachers, and today it is a place where community members, elders, visitors, and now orphaned elephants gather. It is a powerful message of what we are all capable of changing if we put our minds to it. These orphans are happy, eating at a place previously associated with poachers. I wish each of them the best of luck, and I hope to cross paths with them again in the future, back in the wild.



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The Orphans of Reteti, 2020
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