Extraordinary bond between rhinoceros and minder at conservancy

John Kamara, a driver-cum-tour guide at Lewa Conservancy, Meru, with Elvis the rhino. [Courtesy]

At Lewa Conservancy, an extraordinary bond has flourished between a man and a rhino.

John Kamara is the unsung hero who for the past 18 years has served as the devoted guardian and guide to Elvis, a gentle giant of the wild whose life journey took an unexpected turn due to her mother’s disability.

You could say, Kamara is the ‘mother’ of Elvis, an 18-year-old black rhino at Lewa Conservancy in Meru County.

Kamara, 45, has worked at the conservancy for 20 years, but one of the most memorable happenings at the sanctuary is his bond with the rhino.

His relationship with Elvis captivates tourists and other visitors to the ecosystem, nestled in the expansive plains that is Lewa, a secured home to over 200 rhinos and other big and small game.

Now an orphan, Elvis’ mother was blind, which posed a challenge of taking care of it.

So Kamara stepped in to help the calf move around, feed and ensure it was safe from threats to its existence.

“The mother of Elvis was blind, and a blind animal lacks the experience of taking care of its baby. It makes the baby vulnerable to predators like the hyena, lions, leopards and cheetah. That is why we had to assist the mother to take care of its calf,” he said.

Kamara’s bond with Elvis has become stronger in the nearly two decades they have known each other, and he said it has been “quite an experience”.

John Kamara has served as the devoted guardian and guide to Elvis (right) for the past 18 years. [Courtesy]

“Elvis still remembers me because I was like its mother. Just like human beings, an animal will not forget its mother. When Elvis senses, sees me or hears my voice, it runs to me. It loves it when I am near it, and the feeling is mutual,” Kamara said.

After it came of age to take care of itself, the rhino was released into the wild to fend for itself but its relationship with Kamara has stayed stronger, a fact that is evident every time they are together.

“It now has its territory, and it can take care of itself very well,” he said.

Kamara said taking care of Elvis has been a learning experience, and within that period has been able to identify how animals behave and respond to different circumstances.

“Animals are unique creatures, and I tend to think it is we, the humans, who misunderstand the animals,” he said.

The conservation area, just like Meru National Park, was in the 80s and 90s a poachers’ paradise, and they mounted poaching missions to a point where rhino numbers became a concern.

But the management has left nothing to chance and has deployed technology that has made Lewa one of the most protected sanctuaries.

The management installed the Earth Ranger, one of the most advanced technologies that enables the security personnel to get real-time information on the location of each rhino.

Backed by armed rangers and even helicopters fitted with night vision equipment, the Joint Operations Command Centre team can watch all happenings in the sanctuary the whole day.

“We brought technology to support the rangers in the protection of the rhinos and other animals. We also have satellite collars and transmitters on some of our animals and tracking devices which enable rangers to keep the animals safe from poachers,” said Head of Security John Pamera.