While in Kenya for work, a rare day off emerged. A colleague and myself decided to go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, a short car ride from our downtown hotel.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues and rehabilitates baby elephant and rhino orphans. It was founded in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E, in honor of her late husband, naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Sheldrick MBE. The Wildlife Trust operates within Nairobi National Park. The organization rescues baby elephants and rhino orphans from poachers — often a baby elephant’s mother and family have been killed for its ivory and the baby has been left behind to die. Other pitfalls of living in the wild include situations such as, baby elephants falling into wells and their families leaving them behind.
We visited during the feeding of the baby elephants and did not see any of the rhinos during our visit. The keepers explained that the youngsters arrive very traumatized and depressed.
Elephants are intelligent and social creatures that bond with humans in a similar fashion to children. When the orphans first arrive at the preserve, a keeper is with them at all times, they receive 3-hourly feedings of baby formula, have blankets for when they sleep, and sunscreen and umbrellas for the sun.
As they acclimate to their new home, they are slowly introduced to the other orphans and eventually rotate between the nursery and the other rehabilitation spaces.
After the orphans have been integrated into the group and no longer show signs of distress or problems feeding they join the two groups of elephants, categorized by age, that participate in the feeding in front of the public, as we experienced. They have such personality. The babies exhibit childlike qualities over sharing time with the keepers, bottle-feeding, eating leaves and playing in the mud. It was cute to hear the babies make loud noises once their bottles were empty and they were still hungry, as a child would cry.
Some of the orphans would come over to the visitors lined around the feeding area so that people could pet them, while others were a little unsure about getting close to strangers. Elephants like large dogs, are leaners, it seems to be a source of comfort. Though they are babies, they are hefty babies, so it wouldn’t be good if they stepped on a person’s foot. The keepers told us not to squat down below them because that is taken as play and they will kick people as if a person was a ball. They are quite playful.
Eventually, the elephants are reintegrated into the wild elephant community and join/form new herds in the National Park.
For $50.00 a year, it is possible to Foster an orphaned elephant or rhino through the ‘Orphans’ Project. While there, I adopted Dupotto, a female orphan, found alone, most likely a victim of poaching.