Chelsea Spampinato has always loved animals of all kinds. Last August, the then 19-year-old Chelsea and her father, Giorgio, circled a ranch looking for the newest addition to their family.
They had chosen to rescue a rehabilitated pet and Chelsea ultimately decided on a curious little gentleman who followed her around the ranch sticking his nose up her dress.
The technical term for his nose being his trunk, considering Chelsea’s new pet was an elephant. His name is Kariba, which means strength in Zimbabwe.
Chelsea is from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. It is not uncommon in Zimbabwe to adopt wild animals, like antelope and rhinos, from wildlife sanctuaries, where they will grow up and their owners can visit them as often as they would like.
“She had already adopted seven puppies, so I figured why not add an elephant to the mix,” Giorgio said. “I was a safari leader and so was my son Vittorio, so I am glad that I got the chance to instill this love of animals in both of my children.”
Every summer Chelsea’s father takes their family on a self-guided safari in Hwange, the largest national park in Zimbabwe.
“We go out to the bush for about a week,” Chelsea said. “Since my dad and brother both used to be professional guides, we go out on our own routes, take our own cars and find the animals ourselves which is a really big deal now because a lot of safari’s are set up and kind of fake. I like being able to get the realistic view of Zimbabwe as a native.”
It is her love of animals that has brought Chelsea to schooling so far from home. She decided that if she ever wanted to own her own ranch, which is a great expense, she would have to get a high paying job first. She knew she wanted to attend school in America and chose the University of South Florida because of its warm weather.
The poisoning of water holes at Hwange national park, which killed nearly 300 elephants in the past year inspired Chelsea to work for change.
She wants to participate in the efforts to stop the mass poaching of elephants and other wild animals by one day work for the World Wildlife Fund or even the United Nations so she chose to pursue an international law degree.
Kariba’s mother was poached when he was three weeks old. The herd abandoned him and he was unable to learn how to use his trunk, an essential part of an elephant’s development. He was rescued by the Imire wildlife sanctuary, where he would gain use of his trunk and later meet Chelsea.
While it is hard being so far away from her pets and family, she is driven by her desire to protect the wildlife that is being hunted, not only in Zimbabwe but around the world.
Since coming to the University of South Florida, Chelsea has joined a sorority on campus. The fun fact that she often gives in the form of ice breakers during class or sorority activities is often about Kariba.
“At first I didn’t believe her,”Rachel Manning said, Chelsea’s best friend at school. “Then she showed me pictures and it is just so crazy that I know someone with an elephant as a pet. Now I tell all my friends back home about it.”
Chelsea has not been able to see her elephant since winter break last December. She receives photos and videos of Kariba, who is just over a year old now, from her father.
Giorgio visits Kariba at the ranch about once a week. He said Kariba is getting so big, the next time Chelsea goes to visit him she better be careful because he might accidentally sit on her.