“Elephant watching is a favourite pastime for both children and staff in Meru,” says Peter Wambugu, Village Director of the SOS Children's Village in Meru, Kenya, “but we usually watch them through a fence.”
Situated near the base of Mt. Kenya, SOS Meru is close to the edge of the Imenti Forest, home to many wild animals including buffalo, monkeys, leopards, and elephants.
The elephant that visited SOS was identified as one of a pair that had strayed out of the forest during the night and been chased away by people in a nearby community. Shortly after sunrise, one of the animals managed to return to the forest while the other wandered, first, into the compound of Kenya Methodist University and, later, forced its way through large fences into the SOS Children's Village.
Mr. Wambugu recalls, “Many of us at SOS Meru had never seen an elephant up close, and we watched it with a mixture of awe and excitement, some of us from our verandas, and other, braver ones, from our lawns. We soon got the impression that the elephant felt safe in the Village, because every time it looked like it was about to make a break for it, it seemed to change its mind.” Another SOS staff member remarked, “The elephant must have understood that the SOS Children's Village is a place for every child and every thing, a place where every child is looked after with love, security, and respect!”
The elephant was so relaxed that even the barking of five fierce neighbours’ dogs failed to intimidate it as it slowly waltzed into a field below the guest house, enjoyed a mud bath, meandered through the family gardens, and knocked down fences as if they were spiders' webs.
Finally, the elephant discovered an exit and bulldozed its way through the main chain link fence at high speed, trumpeting loudly, and scattering observers in all directions. It crossed farms and uprooted trees along the way. By that time, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers had arrived and reassured SOS staff that the elephant was returning safely to the forest.
This is the second time that an elephant has paid a visit to SOS Children’s Village Meru. In July 2009, an elephant ran into the Village, knocking down the fence and trampling over the vegetable garden.