Animals Inc. on Location: Introduction and Dispatch 1

As a way of reaching out to zoo and aquarium professionals to offer products and services that enhance animal care and welfare, educational opportunities, and the visitor experience, more than 300 companies that share an interest in zoos and aquariums partner with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as Commercial Members.

Tim Lewthwaite, AZA’s Publications Manager, who contributes to this blog and serves as the editor of AZA’s CONNECT Magazine, is currently traveling through Kenya with one of AZA’s Commercial Members—Classic Escapes.

As a family-owned boutique travel company, Classic Escapes specializes in nature and cultural journeys and provides travelers with the opportunity to observe and learn about species in their natural ranges in ways that respect both nature and the local culture.

We invite you to follow Tim’s experiences in Kenya, as well as visit the Animals Inc. website to view his photos and learn more about actions you can take to help preserve these species.

Dispatch 1:  Out of Africa, Baby Elephants and Giraffes
After a briefing about the wonderful events ahead, we were ready for the adventure as we visited an elephant orphanage at the edge of Nairobi National Park. The facility is a nursery and rehab center for baby elephants, as well as rhinos, zebras, and other wildlife who have lost their families–often killed by poachers.

An elephant orphanage at the edge of Nairobi National Park cares for baby elephants, rhinos, zebras and other wildlife who have lost their families--often killed by poachers.

An elephant orphanage at the edge of Nairobi National Park cares for baby elephants, rhinos, zebras, and other wildlife who have lost their families–often killed by poachers. Photo by Tim Lewthwaite.

We saw 30 young elephants all told, and as cute as they are, there is a tragic story behind why most of them need to be brought up in the care of the keepers–almost all of the youngsters we observed were rescued after their mothers had been poached for ivory.

While we were there, the keepers brought the elephants to the waterhole and salt lick to be fed and to socialize. We got to see them eat, play fight, and interact with their keepers. These infants will be eventually released into the wild at Tsavo East National Park and end up in the care of other orphans, who have been successfully reintroduced to the wild.

Rothschild giraffe at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) Nature Center. Photo by Tim Lewthwaite.

Rothschild giraffe at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) Nature Center. Photo by Tim Lewthwaite.

Then it was on to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) Nature Center near Giraffe Manor where visitors can hand-feed the Rothschild giraffes that live here. The giraffes were brought to the facility by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville, who founded AFEW and built the Nature Center to help educate young African children about wildlife conservation. Rothschild giraffes are the tallest giraffe species and can reach 18 feet in height, but we were able to see eye to eye with them on the Center’s elevated walkway.

We then enjoyed lunch at Karen Blixen’s Garden Restaurant before visiting the Karen Blixen House, the former house of the Danish Baroness, Karen Blixen (1885-1962), author of the book Out of Africa. Karen lived in this green residential area from 1914 until 1931 when she left permanently for Denmark. The house was built in 1910 and when Ms. Blixen bought the property, it had 6,000 acres of land but only 600 acres were developed for growing coffee; the rest was retained under natural forest. The house was bought by the Danish Government, which offered it back to Kenya in 1963. In 1986, the house, formerly used as a school, was transformed to a National Museum. Much of the original furniture is on display in the house and most objects were either used by Karen herself or for the shooting of the film Out of Africa  or donated to the museum.


Tim is traveling with AZA Commercial Member Classic Escapes. 

Note: One of the highlights of this post is Tim’s visit to an elephant orphanage, where he and other travelers observe young elephants that have lost their families due to poaching. In 2012 alone, poachers killed more than 35,000 elephants for their tusks.

Last week, to end a clear message to poaching and wildlife trafficking criminals that the U.S. will take all available measures to disrupt and prosecute those who prey on and profit from the deaths of elephants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed six tons of elephant ivory seized over the years by the U.S. government. Currently, the U.S. is one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.

Here’s more information on what is being done to help elephants and how you can become involved:

Additional information about the ivory crush can be found on the USFWS website: More facts can also be found in the Q&A section:

The 96 Elephants campaign, launched by the Wildlife Conservation Society and supported by AZA, asks people to sign a petition to the President requesting a ban on ivory trade in the United States.

The AZA/Animals Inc. page asks people to send a letter in support of an ivory ban to your member of Congress.

AZA members participate in more than 85 elephant conservation projects in 20 countries, providing more than $26 million in support.  There are 142 Asian elephants and 166 African elephants in the AZA Elephant Species Survival Plan® (SSP), providing a critical link to elephant conservation projects worldwide.

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