The Greatest Christmas Gift

Published on the 26th of December, 2019

I would like to extend my warmest holiday wishes, wherever and however you are celebrating in the world. Here in Kenya, we are rejoicing in the greatest gift of all: truly bountiful rains.

I wish you could see firsthand how gloriously green Tsavo is right now. It’s abuzz with life — and new life, in particular! We’ve met four new elephant babies this rainy season, born to orphans who we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild. There is truly no better way to close out the year than this, for by saving the life of one orphan, we are creating a future for entire families.

I thank each of you most sincerely for the vital part you play in our work. People around the world make everything we do possible, and not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at the generosity, enthusiasm, and compassion of our global supporter base. As this year draws to a close, I wish you a joyful holiday season filled with much love and laughter.

– Angela Sheldrick

The Greatest Christmas Gift: An Emerald Tsavo

These past few months have been simply extraordinary. Typically, this later wet season is marked by sporadic storms that saturate the ground before moving off as quickly as they arrived. This year, things are different. The rains began earlier than usual and have continued well into December. Unlike the usual isolated storms, the rains have been widespread, sweeping across the plains of Tsavo in great sheets. In fact, both our Voi and Ithumba Reintegration Units have seen more rain than we can ever remember.

Ithumba is particularly transformed. My father called this part of Tsavo the “jewel in the crown” — and right now, this jewel would most certainly be an emerald! The red earth is positively drenched, bursting with life from every branch and blossom. Tantalizing pools and puddles await around every corner. Elephants can’t resist the temptation of fresh mud, and our orphans are no different. Their bath is so full that they can dive into the crystal clear water headfirst, swimming together en masse like a little school of fish. The dams themselves are filled with geese, frogs, terrapins, and even swimming tortoises. It’s truly a glorious sight to behold.

Over in Voi, which struggled through a challenging dry season earlier this year, everyone has breathed a collective sigh of relief. This is a strikingly open part of Tsavo, and up until the rains, it was a dusty expanse as far as the eye could see. Now, the grasses are so tall that our Voi orphans are positively dwarfed by them — sometimes, all we can see is a telltale tip of a trunk or top of an ear! Everything is vibrant; the whole area is fluttering with butterflies of every hue, while elephants both wild and tame are caked in the red earth so synonymous with Tsavo.

Even Umani, which is lush year-round thanks to its forested environment, is particularly verdant. Its waterholes have morphed into extensive ponds, awash with blue lilies and croaking frogs. If you look closely, you may just spot baby crocs who have relocated from the main spring head now that they are spoilt for choice.

Many of our older orphans are taking advantage of the spectacular conditions and using this time to explore their independence. They are spending extended nights out in the company of ex orphans and wild friends, although many still stroll up to rejoin the dependent herd for milk feedings — this is one luxury they find hard to give up!

These favorable conditions benefit everyone. Now that pasture and water is so plentiful throughout the country, incidents of human-wildlife conflict have declined as communities concentrate on farming and tending to their smallholdings.

I can honestly say I can’t remember Tsavo ever looking so magnificent. Every living creature is in full celebration mode. Compounding the celebrations have been the arrivals of many of our ex orphans, who have returned with their babies in tow. Last month, I shared the news of three new wild-born babies — Wendi’s Wema, Edie’s Eco, and Mweya’s Mwitu — and this month, one more was added to the mix: As dawn broke on December 12th, Sidai arrived at our Ithumba stockades with a tiny calf in tow. Sidai is a lovely girl who we rescued from the drought nearly 14 years ago. The fact that she brought her firstborn, who we are calling Sita, into such a gloriously green world seems a most fitting full-circle moment.

It is never lost on me that while many of us are able to rest and take time off to share the holidays with our families, for our dedicated field teams, the work continues. These people — the Keepers who tend to the orphans, the anti-poaching teams whose presence keeps Tsavo safe, the pilots who patrol the skies, and all the others who we are lucky enough to have on our team — protect this precious place, a landscape that has been so important to my family and is such a vital home to Kenya’s wonderful wildlife. This holiday season, and every day, I tip my hat to them and the indelible impact they have on conservation.

Angela Sheldrick produces Field Notes as a special monthly email, providing her personal insight into varying aspects of Kenya's wildlife and habitats, along with the work of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. To receive the email edition of Field Notes, which includes interviews with our staff, please choose the 'get our emails' option at the bottom of this page and subscribe to the International Newsletter.

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