GRI considers every member of staff - House Keeper, Ground Staff, Security Guard, Elephant Keeper or Education Officer - a Ranger, responsible for the environment and the wildlife within it.
Oscar Shumbwamuntu is the Deputy Head Keeper at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery. His role involves making milk, helping with the Behavioural Observation Study, collecting browse, and going on walks with the orphaned elephants. As Deputy Head Keeper, he is also responsible for ensuring the Keepers are on time, in uniform and fulfilling their duties. He enjoys working for GRI because he loves wildlife and has understood its importance from a very young age. In fact, as a child, he was nicknamed “Jungle Boy,“ because of his interest in animals.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I enjoy working with elephants because I get to learn about their different behaviours and personalities.
Who is your favourite orphaned Elephant?
I cannot pick a favourite, I love all of them as they all have unique characters that interest me. Elephants are my favourite animal and I feel like they are my children, which makes it difficult to pick a favourite. They are all my favourite.
What is the least favourite part of your job?
I have been working at GRI for 10 years, so I am used to everything I do, it feels like it’s a part of me. I always know what to do and I enjoy it all, so I wouldn’t say there is something I don’t like, everything is interesting.
How does it affect you when there is a newly orphaned elephant?
All rescues are different, they are all involving, and there is always a lot of work to be done throughout the day and night. I have become so used to waking up at night to check on the orphaned elephants that I no longer needed an alarm to wake up.
All rescues involve going to the field and assessing the situation: is the elephant healthy?, is it injured or malnourished?, how long has it been there?, is their condition conducive for transportation to the Nursery? There are a lot of factors to be considered.
How have you contributed to the fight for wildlife conservation within your community?
Most of my family know about GRI and the work that we do.
I educate my family and friends and advise them that these animals are our responsibility - we need to conserve them and use them wisely. They understand that people find income in conservation, so we need to fight for sustainability.
When I was a young boy in my village, we used to see a lot of animals by the river side whenever we went to draw water, but now, when I go to visit my village, I don’t see any wildlife, it’s a very sad thing, I wish we could go back to the days when we saw wildlife flourish.
How do you feel about poachers?
Poachers are very bad people, I don’t understand how someone can do that to an elephant and sleep at night.
If I came across poachers, I would try and make them realise that what they are doing is wrong and if they still didn’t understand I would take a disciplinary action.
How do you feel about environment distortion?
I don’t like it when I see someone littering, especially in a game park. I once stopped a lady who bought some biscuits for her children and threw the wrappers on the ground while they were walking in a Game Management Area. I told them this is dangerous and that if they're caught they would be punished by law, and I explained that the animals could die from eating such litter.
Images: James Suter, Black Bean Productions