Learn more about the conservation work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya and how you can be a part of its mission of saving elephants who have been orphaned due to poaching. A visit to the Trust is also a wonderful, hands-on way to teach children about conservation.
Saving Elephants in Kenya
Deep in the African hinterland, on the outskirts of Nairobi is a very special place. Kenya is renowned for its wildlife, and its capital city is no exception. Nairobi is a vast sprawling urban jungle of high-rise buildings, shanty towns, and monkey filled parks. It is also the only city in the world that is home to a wildlife national park. Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s oldest park, and, despite being filled with most of the big 5, it is only 10 km from the city centre.
In an inimitable marriage of mankind and nature, the park creeps up on you unannounced, skirted as it is on two sides by busy roads. To enter the park is to enter true Africa. The chaos of the city recedes, and dusty roads replace asphalt. On your drive to the Trust you may as easily sight dik dik, or gazelle as rhino or lions. One thing is for sure when you arrive at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is that you will definitely spot elephants.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) has been a leader in animal conservation since it was started 1977 by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. It offers the world’s most successful example of elephant rehabilitation.
In addition it offers various schemes such as anti-poaching teams and mobile veterinary clinics. These schemes work to save and protect animals suffering due to extreme poaching.
In its environmental work the Trust works to conserve areas of Kenya that are being damaged by human encroachment.
Without a doubt the celebrated star of the Trust is the Orphans’ Project, which helps the goal of saving elephants in Kenya. The elephant rehabilitation project has achieved worldwide fame and is supported on a global scale. As Kenya’s elephant and rhino populations continue to decline under the onslaught of poaching for ivory, the DSWT steps in to support the orphans who are left grieving their parents. 150 elephants, rhinos, and even a giraffe have been rescued from wild herds all over Kenya. These orphans are hand raised and reintegrated back into elephant herds in Tsavo.
Saving Orphaned Elephants
Working closely with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, the DSWT is on alert 24/7, always ready to answer the call of an elephant in need. Young elephants are often discovered in highly traumatic circumstances and may themselves be injured, sick, or in shock. Once an elephant in need is found, the DSWT will organise for the elephant to be airlifted to the Trust’s orphanage in Nairobi.
The primary concern regarding a newly arrived infant elephant, beyond medical care, is the fragile state of the elephant’s mind. Elephants who have lost their parents will sometimes choose not to live. The care given to the newly arrived elephants reflects the Trust’s understanding of this.
Each elephant is assigned their own keeper. This keeper replaces the lost elephant family and will look after the elephant as they would a child. The Keeper cares for the elephant 24 hours a day. Their job is not only feeding and exercising but also applying sunscreen, shielding with an umbrella, and covering with blankets when cold. Elephants are very tactile animals and lots of love and affection is given through physical touch and play. At night the keepers sleep in the elephants’ stables with them. They are never left alone. The responsibility of a keeper is that of father to child.
The Rehabilitation Process
After the first critical weeks their routine settles down. Year 3 and 4 are milk-weaning years where the elephants will gradually start to eat solid food. These years are about preparing for reintegration back into the wild.
The young elephants spend their days walking in the bush with their keepers, learning how to forage and becoming used to being outside. At this point they are transferred to stockades in Tsavo, Voi, or Kibwezi. Even at this stage they move with their keepers. Now they spend their days in the bush, becoming used to the wild herds. Over time they grow to prefer the company of elephants and will venture out more and more, though still returning to the stockades at night.
Each orphan decides the time when they will leave the stockades for good and take their place with the wild herds. It varies with each animal, but often the bulls leave sooner than the females. Even when they have left, they will still frequently ‘visit’ for a night to say hello.
Visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
It’s a magical success story, and a visit to the Trust is a wonderful educational opportunity for my children. I often ask myself what are the benefits of raising my children abroad. It’s experiences like those at the DSWT that make it all perfect.
The DSWT offers two opportunities to meet the orphans. Most tourists who wish to visit the site will arrive at 11.00. For a small 5-dollar entrance fee you get to meet the elephants as part of an hour-long educational talk. This very informative talk tells you about the work and a little about each of the elephants’ personal stories.
However, for 50 dollars you can foster an elephant. Choosing to become a mummy or daddy allows you exclusive access to the elephants at visiting time in the evening. Trust me, even if you are a tourist in Nairobi, the extra money is worth it for the experience, and you know you are supporting the mission of saving elephants.
Arriving at 5 you can spend some time saying hello to the resident rhinos and Kiko the giraffe. Then the call goes up. The elephants are returning. Their excited trumpeting can be heard minutes before they arrive back from their day in the park. Suddenly you are at the wrong end of an elephant stampede. The sight of dozens of baby elephant charging from the bush, keen for their supper is unparalleled.
One by one they make their way to their individual stalls, where they given their huge bottles of milk by their keepers. They are then tucked up in a blanket and put to bed. In this hour-long period you are able to meet all of the elephants. You can feed them, stroke them, and speak to their keepers about them. We’ve taken adults and kids alike, and all agree it’s the most incredible experience: It is a true chance to spend time one on one with a wild animal, a chance that few will ever get.
Contributing to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
If you are interested in the work that the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does, including saving elephants, then please visit their website. You can find out information on all the orphans, as well as the huge scope of other work that they do.
You can foster an elephant even if you can’t visit the orphanage. You will receive a personalized certificate, an interactive map, a monthly update on the progress of your orphan, and a watercolour by CEO Angela Sheldrick.
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