What are the Odds?
Circa 1984, Kenya
Diana Steel and her family were our Discovery Beach House guests in 2013. After her son Simon studied our web site, he called.
“I think you may have something in common with my mother,” Simon said. “She used to work with elephants in Kenya.”
I was skeptical. “We only knew one elephant in Kenya and that was 30 years ago. She was an orphan at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club animal orphanage. Her name was Mary.”
Simon was quiet for a moment then said, “I think my mother knew Mary.”
Volunteering on the Orangutan Project
Camp Leakey, Borneo – 1984
A baby orangutan lay curled in the fetal position on the grass by the banks of the Sekonyer Kanin River. She’d lived in a cage in someone’s back yard for two years. Her mother had been killed by poachers and eaten so she could be sold for as little as $20. It was likely the orphan had witnessed the traumatic event. Now she was sick and her human owners no longer wanted her. She’d lost two families in three short years. She had a fever and wasn’t responding when touched.
A few days ago my friend Mary Ann Mollenkamp sent me a link to a blog post written by Innocent Uwizeye from the Art of Conservation. He described a hike to Karisoke Research Center, the former site of gorilla expert Dian Fossey’s 18-year research study of the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Although our friendship with Dian spanned 2 short years before her death, it was a relationship that redefined our purpose and eventually led us to establish our own private nature reserves in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica and a life among its primates. What follows is our blog posts.
When you got to the Karisoke site was there an engraved marker on Dian’s grave? It reads in part, “No one loved gorillas more. Rest in peace dear friend…” I wrote the inscription on the marker and sent it to Rwanda through the US Embassy to be installed in 1986. We later learned it had been removed during the war for safekeeping but we don’t know if it was ever reinstalled. Can you let us know?
Today was an amazing day beginning with unloading two tons of watermelons from one of the many produce trucks that come in every day. Each watermelon needs to be washed by hand. We also mashed bananas, cornmeal and other grains into elephant balls for the older elephants who can’t chew fresh fruit. Each elephant needs about 100 kilos per day. Their are 40 elephants here – that’s 4000 kilos of food prepped everyday!
We were then rewarded with Lek taking us on an elephant walk. Her nickname means “little” but her passion for saving badly abused elephants is enormous. Nine elephants are blind in at least one eye having been punished for disobeying. I naively believed their mahout trainers had a loving relationship with their elephants but the opposite is true. Some elephants have severely swayed or even broken backs from decades of carrying tourists.
Find out what you can do here: www.elephantnaturepark.org/.
Picture a dead end job with the glass ceiling weighing heavy on my pride. I know I’m good at writing letters because I consistently get results from them for my firm. I wonder how I can turn this skill into a bullet train ride out of here. The book I’ve just read, Gorillas in the Mist, pops into my brain. I touch pen to paper and out flows, Dear Dian Fossey. She had a reputation for liking gorillas more than people and this is the longest shot I’ve ever taken. I don’t know it at the time but this letter is my bullet train. Even though this took place more than 25 years ago, the lessons learned are still relevant today.