Folks, this has to be one of the most heart-warming and the most impactful excursions during our trip to Kenya this past summer. Every time we visit Kenya we always make it a point to stop by The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in the Karen neighborhood of Nairobi. And this visit was just as memorable as our previous ones.
I tried my best to pick just a handful of pictures to include in this story, but I had hard time choosing which photos to include. I apologize in advance if there are too many pictures in this post.
Hitesh has been following the work of The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage for over three decades now. He even adopted a baby elephant ten years ago and as the baby elephant got older and was released back into the wild, Hitesh adopted another young elephant to provide essential care and food for these orphaned elephants.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as this organization is officially called was founded in 1977 by Daphne Sheldrick in honor of her late husband David Sheldrick who was a renowned naturalist and conservationist in Kenya. The main objective of this organization is conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife. They address many conservation issues facing Kenya such as anti-poaching, preservation of the natural environment, increasing local community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, and providing veterinary assistance to animals in need. But what they are most well known for is rescuing and hand-rearing elephant and rhino orphans.
The bread and butter of this NGO is their Orphans’ Project. This project is what put The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the world map. The Orphan’s Project has been hugely successful in rescuing orphaned elephants and rehabilitating them back into the wild. To date The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and has effectively reintegrated them back into the wild.
We stopped by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust during their public viewing hour, and then went back after-hours during the foster parent visiting hour. This honor is only given to adoptive parents of elephants, and since we had fostered an elephant named Ngilai, we were able to visit with him during the foster parent visiting hour.
First let me tell you about the public viewing time from 11-12noon. The Sheldrick Wildlife Conservation Center is only open to the public for 1 hour, seven days a week. This is when the public can come and watch the young elephants being fed by their caregivers. We went to the center a little before the viewing time and got to the facility 30 minutes early.
While we patiently waited for the little elephants to make their appearance, I saw a lot of excitement among all the visitors there. We all got to observe the caregivers getting ready for feeding time. We watched them spread acacia branches for the elephants all over the grounds and also got to see them get all the milk ready for the young elephants. There were even puddles of water created on these grounds, as we found out baby elephants like to cool themselves off in the muddy water and play in these puddles.
The audience includes tourists from all parts of the world and local visitors as well – little visitors that is 😊. Kenya has an outstanding program to encourage the younger generation to have a vested interest in preserving their wildlife, and you know how they foster this? They provide free admission to all school kids to animal parks and conservation centers. During our visit to the Sheldrick Center we saw three groups of elementary school kids all waiting excitedly to see the baby elephants.
Waiting for the little elephants to arrive, we couldn’t help but smile at the huge bottles of milk in wheelbarrows. These giant baby bottles were sitting in the shade ready for the young elephants.
The time finally arrived! Like a preschool where little kids are set free to play in the playground, we see a long line of baby elephants trotting down the path towards us with ears flopping and trunks swinging. It’s a hilarious sight to see 😄.
Then we realize that they are all running towards their caregivers. They were all heading for their bottles of milk.😀😀
We saw some baby elephants so hungry that they guzzle their huge milk bottles empty within seconds and push and prod the caregiver for more. But once they finish their allocated milk quota, they are encouraged to eat the leaves of the acacia branches.
The ostrich you see in the photos was adopted by the shelter as a chick and has stayed at the shelter ever since. Her name is Pea and she trotted down the path with the baby elephants.
The orphanage shares its land with the Nairobi National Park (a wild animal park within the city of Nairobi). There is no fence between the orphanage and the national park, so animals can roam freely back and forth even if they are not part of the orphanage.
During this one-hour viewing time, the young elephants are close enough that we are allowed to pet them as they walk by.
This was one lively and endearing experience. You just can’t help but feel warmth and affection for these beautiful gentle animals. In fact, during the public viewing hour I overheard a couple of American teens who were discussing among themselves and talking to each other: “Dude, it’s only $50 bucks a year to foster a baby elephant. That’s like what 4 dollars a month? We should seriously foster a couple of elephants.” What I heard made me smile 😊. That is the impact of The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. It touches you in such a way that you can’t help but want to do more for this precious wildlife.
After a fun hour of seeing the baby elephants we left for the rest of the afternoon to tour The Kazuri Bead Factory in the same Karen neighborhood, before coming back to The Sheldrick Elephant center for their foster parents’ visiting hour. This is a one hour viewing time from 4-5pm for those of us who have fostered elephants through the center’s Orphans’ Project. We had to show our foster certificate and we had to make reservations in advance for this unique opportunity to get up close with our foster baby elephants.
The first thing all the foster parents are asked to do when we arrived at the shelter was to line up alongside the path where the young elephants walk back from being out in the half-way house. This is a nature park (part of Nairobi National Park) where they are taught how to live in the wild.
Just as parents wait on the sidelines after a soccer game to high-five their children, we patiently wait for the baby elephant troop to come through. And then, one after another from through the bushes the little elephants start marching down the path towards us in a long line. As they come down the path, the head of the Sheldrick center shouts out the names of every baby elephant as he or she walks past us.
Everyone is excited to see their foster children and we were asked to just watch and not pet them as the baby elephants walked past us. The young elephants continued down the path towards the Sheldrick compound where they knew exactly where their shed is and headed straight for their resting place for the evening.
In the Sheldrick compound there are multiple sheds where elephants and their caregivers sleep. Each stall houses one elephant and their caregiver. The names of the elephants are outside each stall.
During this foster parent-visiting hour we had the opportunity to see all the orphaned baby elephants up close, and had many opportunities to feed them a few acacia branches as well. We walked around the compound interacting with all the elephants, but what we were really looking for is Ngilai, the young elephant we fostered. We finally found him hanging out in his pen.
In each shed there is a bed for the caregiver and straw and leaves for the young elephants to sleep on. The caregivers have living quarters at the Sheldrick Center, however at night they sleep with their adopted elephant. Just as babies need their milk every 3 hours when they are young, so do these baby elephants and the caregivers sleep with their elephants mainly so they can feed them during the night.
The elephant-caregiver relationship is a very special one. When you talk to the caregivers you realize that just as a parent loves and knows everything about their child, the caregivers love their young elephants and know all their personalities and temperaments. They provide the role of Mother and Father while the elephants are at the orphanage until they are ready to be released back into the wild. This relationship can last from 3 to 8 years, sometimes even a decade.
Once you’ve experienced seeing baby elephants up close and personal, and see how gentle their personas are, you walk away wanting to foster more orphaned elephants.
We even caught sight of an orphaned giraffe and an orphaned rhino, and of course Pea the ostrich who just chose to make this place her home was in her pen here in the compound as well.
There are so many wonderful stories I can share about this amazing conservation facility but there are too many to tell in this article. Let me just share this one story about a baby elephant that was raised by her caregiver and released back into the wild. She came back to the shelter many years later with a young baby of her own and went looking for her caregiver at the Sheldrick center to show him her young son. It just so happens the caregiver was still working at the center and was able to recount this story. Have you heard the saying “Elephants have long memories”? They really do.
Whether you make it to Kenya or not, I encourage you to take a look at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust web site. As those teens chatted among themselves, it’s only $4 a month to foster an orphaned elephant, but what that money can do for these elephants is far-reaching. It allows the Sheldrick facility to hire more caregivers to provide the Mother figure that these elephants need to successfully re-enter the wild.
Most of the elephants live at the center for many years before they are ready to go back into the wild. This is a long-term commitment. The Sheldrick center needs donations to keep the Orphan’s Project going for decades and to be able to provide gainful employment to these caregivers who stay with the orphaned elephants for years.
Here’s a trivia question for you. Wonder what milk is in those huge bottles that the baby elephants drink out of? Here is something I found out, it took the Sheldrick center ten years of research to figure out the right milk formula to feed the baby elephants, and you know what they came up with? It turned out to be specialized baby formula. They feed the baby elephants modified baby formula from the same baby formula we feed our babies. And just as we sterilize our baby bottles before putting milk in them, the same is done for the huge bottles that are used for the baby elephants too. While walking around the compound we caught sight of a huge sterilizing machine with multiple bottles getting sterilized.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is now run by Angela Sheldrick, the daughter of David and Daphne Sheldrick. Angela has been managing all of the Trust’s activities for over a decade now. Having grown up in Kenya, Angela has been part of the Trust’s vision from the start, and with her husband Robert and their two sons Taru and Roan the foundation is continuing David and Daphne Sheldrick’s conservation projects in Kenya.
Take a look at their web site for more information on Sheldrick’s conservation projects and for details on their Orphan’s Project. The main objective of the Orphan’s Project is to protect the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they try to survive and escape ivory and horn poachers. Sheldrick Orphan’s Project
Fostering Program Here you can find a list of orphaned elephants who need fostering. Each orphaned elephant needs multiple foster parents to provide the necessary care to keep the animals healthy and fed at the orphanage. So check it out, and see if you like one of the young elephants, and become a foster parent.
For more information on the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage check out their web site. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust