If you are passing through Nairobi then a visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is something you will not want to miss. The trust’s Orphans Project is in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, and is part of Nairobi National Park. The project was started by life long conservationist and author of Love, Life and Elephants, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. The project rescues baby elephants, rhinos and giraffes and rehabilitates them until they are ready to be released back into the wild.
About the Project
The Orphans’ Project was first set up to rescue baby elephants that had lost their mothers. The separation of a mother from her calf is usually caused by drought, habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict or poaching. Unfortunately, this continues to get worse due to humanity’s increasing need for development, causing more instances of human-wildlife conflict and also because poaching is on the rise.
An infant elephant relies exclusively on their mother’s milk for the two years of their life and they are very rarely adopted by other mothers within the herd. As such, it is very unlikely that an orphaned elephant would survive in the wild without human intervention.
Daphne Sheldrick has worked with elephants for over 50 years. She first started attempting to rehabilitate young calves in Tsavo East National Park, while her husband David was the warden. Through trial and error, she came up with a formula that worked as a substitute for elephant milk, giving the young babies a chance for survival without their mothers. Once she cracked the formula, she and David hand-reared a lot of baby elephants and successfully rehabilitated them into the wild of Tsavo East National Park.
Daphne set up the trust in the memory of her husband David after he sadly passed away in 1977 and set up an elephant orphanage instead of caring for the baby elephants at her private home. The trust now rehabilitates rhinos, giraffes, and elephants and is a massive success. They have raised over 240 orphan elephants through hand-feeding and twenty-four-hour care that have successfully been rehabilitated back into the world.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust now has a number of projects outside the elephant orphanage that address the issues surrounding and causing young calves to be orphaned, taking a valued holistic approach. The trust works with anti-poaching by funding people on the ground to protect and monitor wildlife as well as providing aerial surveillance in conjunction with this. They have community outreach programs in order to educate local Kenyans about how to interact and protect wildlife when they encounter it, trying to reduce the impact of human-wildlife conflict. Other projects include water relief during droughts, protecting the natural habitats, and veterinary units assisting injured wildlife so that they can stay in the wild.
Visiting the Orphanage
The orphanage is only open to the public for one hour a day, between 11 a.m. and midday.
This is feeding time for the babies and during your time here, you will have the opportunity to watch the calfs being hand-fed by their carers, enjoying a mud bath and dusting themselves with soil. The young elephants are so incredibly sweet, it is very hard not to be touched by their innocence and happiness. It really is a moving experience.
The visit is both inspiring and educational. You will be introduced to each of the calves and learn about their backstory of how they came to be at the orphanage and a bit about their young personality. One of the gamekeepers gives a very inciteful lecture about the history of the project, its goals, how to raise the young babies by hand and the challenges involved as well as some of the major issues they are facing today in the protection of wildlife in Kenya.
You can take plenty of photos while you are there, the gamekeepers and young babies are not camera shy. The keepers are also very accommodating and happy to answer any questions and thoughts you may have. You can see that they all really car, are inspired and love their job.
Directions & Entry Fees
The orphanage is located in Karen and is inside Nairobi National Park, which is approximately 15 kilometers from Nairobi city center and a 30-40 minute drive from Jomo Kenyatta Airport. You will have to enter through the KWS Central Workshop Gate situated on Magadi Road in Langata.
You can catch a taxi from your hotel, hop on a Matatu or ask simply your tour operator to include the orphanage as part of your stay in Kenya. It is really worth staying in the area as there are plenty of other wildlife and historical attractions nearby, including the Karen Blixen Museum and the Giraffe Center (where you can learn more about the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe).
You can also visit Nairobi National Park for the day and have a mini safari and to stay overnight in the park itself, you can book accommodation at Nairobi Tented Camp.
Entry to the orphanage requires a minimum donation of $7 or 500 Kenyan shillings per person. The orphanage only accepts cash.
Adopting an Orphan
It’s hard not to be moved when you see the dedication and hard work it takes for the keepers to keep the young calves happy and healthy. It is like having a child. Feedings occur every three hours twenty-four hours a day, and keeping them warm, safe and emotionally secure requires a huge amount of effort and money.
For just $50 a year, you can adopt an orphan and make a meaningful contribution to the orphanage. You will receive an adoption certificate, monthly email updates, a monthly watercolor painting by Angela Sheldrick and exclusive access to the latest Keeper’s Diaries, photos, and videos.
Once you become an adopter, you are able to make arrangements for a private visit to the sanctuary to visit your orphaned calf. This visit usually happens at 5 p.m. when the babies return to their stables for their evening milk and bedtime. All of the orphans that are up for adoption have a profile on the David Sheldrake Wildlife Trust website, listing their name, age and reason for being at the sanctuary. Take a look if you are interested.
In The End
This is an incredible project and simply through visiting the orphanage, you are contributing to the amazing work the trust is doing, along with the added bonus of being able to see, learn about and interact with baby elephants, rhinos and giraffes. It truly is a heartwarming experience and will be something you will never forget.