Ever since the sixth grade, Shannon Yogerst has been longing to get to Africa to meet the orphaned animals she has sponsored with her own money from birthdays, holidays and funds earned from racking up field hockey goals. Shannon finally got the opportunity to go to Africa on the trip of a lifetime with her father, Joe, this year, her senior year at Torrey Pines High.
Her spring trip to Kenya included a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant and Rhino Orphanage in Nairobi to meet her adopted elephant, Kamok, and her adopted rhino, Maxwell.
Shannon has always loved animals, especially elephants, and was motivated to action after seeing conservationist Daphne Sheldrick on an episode of “Oprah,” talking about her work with elephants orphaned by the ivory trade. Daphne Sheldrick worked alongside her husband, David, raising and rehabilitating wild species. Daphne is credited with perfecting a milk formula and husbandry for milk-dependent orphaned elephant and rhino infants.
Shannon learned that to sponsor an elephant cost $40 a month to provide nutrition and care so she saved up her money to adopt an elephant named Tumaren.
In the seventh grade, she added to her pack, adopting a blind rhino orphan named Maxwell who was found running around aimlessly in Nairobi with no sign of his mother.
“You feel like you’re very involved, they send you photos and letters,” Shannon said. “You definitely know what your money is going toward and that’s something I really like about the organization. They love what they do and they are dedicated to the animals every single day.”
After Tumaren outgrew the elephant orphanage and was released back into the wild, Shannon took on Kamok, an elephant, in her sophomore year at Torrey Pines.
Shannon’s father, Joe, had saved up his frequent flier miles to get his daughter to Kenya and the pair had expected to travel last year. The Ebola outbreak caused them to delay their trip to spring of 2016.
Over the 16-day trip, they traveled all around Kenya by small plane and by car. Some days she spent 10 hours in a jeep and it all depended on luck which animals she would see. Turning a corner into a herd of 200 elephants or seeing a pack of lions were among Shannon’s incredible experiences.
“Everywhere we went we saw something completely different,” Shannon said.
She watched the sunset over Mount Kilimanjaro and met Masai women in their village in Tsavo West.
Shannon was able to get up close and personal with giraffes in a giraffe sanctuary, watch monkeys play and spot leopards in Loisaba, tracking them down with her guides at night.
At the elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Shannon finally got to meet Kamok and Maxwell.
She was led into the forest to meet Kamok — she could’ve never expected what she saw: 40 elephants shoulder high, all playing and rolling around in the mud.
“They’re mischievous, they’re just like kids,” Shannon said, noting two-year-old Kamok was the naughtiest one. “She came up to me and put her trunk in my face and sniffed all around. She kept pushing me, she was very sweet.”
Once Kamok is ready she will be reintroduced to the forest as Tumaren was. The older orphan elephants have made their own tribe.
Maxwell, Shannon found, is also known to be quite mischievous and tries to escape his pen. He will likely not be released back into the wild due to his blindness.
“One day I would love to see him again,” Shannon said.
Shannon, a 2016 graduate of Torrey Pines High, will soon begin her freshman year at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. At Tufts, she will continue her field hockey career playing in Division 3 while pursuing her academic goals.
While she plans to study architecture, she anticipates always supporting animals in Africa. And she can’t wait for the day when she gets to return.
“It was really amazing seeing all of the different cultures of Africa,” Shannon said. “It was one of my favorite trips ever and I will definitely remember it for the rest of my life.”