Spirit of St. Francis Lives on in the Work of Edwin Lusichi
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. This year when I reflect upon the life and works of Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, one of the most venerated religious figures in history, I can’t help but think about an amazing man named Edwin Lusichi, the Head Baby Elephant Keeper at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya.
I had the pleasure of meeting Edwin this past July and even though we only exchanged a few words, I felt honored
to shake his hand, look into his eyes, and thank him from the bottom of my heart, for the work that he does saving orphaned elephants.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is the most successful baby elephant orphanage in the world and is devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating baby elephants from all over Kenya that have been orphaned due to poaching or human-wildlife conflict. The nursery is located along the northern rim of Kenya’s Nairobi National Park. A short drive from the Nairobi Hilton where I was staying prior to meeting up with the rest of my group to head into the field to study with the Maasai.
Upon arrival at the elephant orphanage, I was surprised, yet I am not sure why, to find such a big crowd of visitors. Walking the path to the viewing area we passed by the nursery stables which reminded me more of a dormitory than a stable. Each baby elephant sleeps with a different keeper every night so that neither the elephant nor the keeper get too attached. The young elephants are vulnerable and require round the clock care. The dedication required of the keepers takes a special type of person that is willing to give completely of themselves to experience great joy when a baby grows into a healthy juvenile as well as great sorrow when a baby does not survive despite all of their efforts.
The day of my visit, there were 12 baby elephants living at the orphanage. We had arrived just in time to see a parade of 6 small elephants entering the viewing area for their feeding. Edwin, the head baby elephant keeper, was explaining to the crowd the history of the elephant orphanage, and how Daphne Sheldrick worked tirelessly by trial and error to develop a formula that would enable the baby elephants to survive without their mother’s milk.
Edwin also made an impassioned plea for elephant conservation. His calm manner and voice were nearly overshadowed by the ruckus of the crowd jockeying for the best angle to catch photographs of the adorable elephants. I overheard all kinds of conversations about school, friends, clothing styles, what was for lunch, but I didn’t hear anyone discussing elephant conservation. I didn’t hear or witness any of the teenagers that were around me react with horror that one elephant is killed for its tusks every 15 minutes often leaving a defenseless orphan that would surely perish if not for the dedicated souls at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It felt bittersweet listening to Edwin. Sad that most of the visitors weren’t listening to his plea and that these poor elephants had lost their mothers, but happy that the little ones were being cared for until their release back into the wild.
I heard Edwin say that he was studying Theology and on his way to becoming a priest when he took a departure from God’s work and ended up becoming a full time elephant keeper.
As we were leaving, I got to shake Edwin’s hand and tell him, thank you. I told him that perhaps he had not taken a departure at all from God’s work but was redirected to care for these magnificent beings. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “That is what I believe too.”
We shared a smile and he patted me on the shoulder as I was leaving. A feeling of warmth and tranquility washed over me. I believe the spirit of St. Francis lives on in the work of Edwin Lusichi.