When an elephant’s trunk lifts Edwin’s blankets from him, it is business as usual for the 34-year-old. Jolted from sleep—baby elephants are better than any alarm clock—Edwin squints into the darkness and leans over the side of his bunk bed, giving the trunk a reassuring pat. He swings himself onto the ground, straw crunching beneath his feet, and grabs an oversized baby bottle. There’s pressure against his back; he turns to see a grey head nudging him impatiently. Edwin holds the milk out as the little elephant curls his trunk around the bottle and begins to drink noisily. It’s 3am. In three hours’ time, Edwin will repeat the routine all over again. He wouldn’t change it for the world.
As Head Keeper at the Nairobi nursery of the world-renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Edwin Lusichi’s life revolves around caring for orphaned elephant calves. The Wildlife Trust takes in young elephants from all over Kenya, raising them until they are no longer milk dependant. Just like human babies, calves are reliant on their mothers. Torn from their families by poachers, natural disasters, or conflict with humans, elephants often arrive at the Wildlife Trust traumatised and grieving. Until the elephants can be rehabilitated into the wild, the keepers become their family.
Each day, Edwin leads a team of 90 keepers to care for, and play with, the calves as a group. At night, the keepers sleep above the baby animals to keep them company.
“Compassion helped take care of my physical wellbeing when I was young, and they also helped take care of my feelings and emotions,” says Edwin. “And now, that’s one of my most important jobs with the baby elephants.”
Elephant herds have strong family bonds, so losing their mother is a devastating blow for a calf. Without love and attention, they often struggle with depression and can even die from a broken heart.
“I always remind the elephants that I believe in them, just like my Compassion project workers believed in me,” says Edwin. “I tell them, ‘Don’t give up. Keep fighting. You can make it!’ When you believe in people or in animals, they can tell that you love them and it will help them grow.”
Before he started working at the Wildlife Trust, Edwin had never seen an elephant. At the time, he was studying computer technology at university in Nairobi—but God had a different plan for his life. When a friend asked him to man the desk at the Wildlife Trust while staff left on an urgent rescue mission, Edwin thought it would be a good way to earn some cash. Fourteen years later, he can’t imagine his life without elephants in it.
“In the book of Genesis, God calls Adam to watch over the garden and the animals. I now get to help care for some of His biggest babies,” says Edwin. “Just like Compassion helped prepare me for adulthood by caring well for every part of my life, I now get to do the same thing for the elephants. And God’s plan for my life was more adventurous then I ever could have imagined!”
Words by Katy Causey and Zoe Noakes
Photos by Silas Irungu