According to its website, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is “…the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.” This unique elephant orphanage and home is a great place to get up close and personal with some gentle – and playful – giants straight out of the wilderness. In this post we’ll explore the history of the Trust and give some handy tips on visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Sir David Leslie William Sheldrick, MBE for whom the Trust is named, was a naturalist and in 1948 became the founding warden of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. He led early anti-poaching efforts in Kenya and was successful in slowing the growth of the poaching industry. In his work at Tsavo East, he and his wife Daphne (later Dame Daphne Sheldrick) studied the lifestyle, feeding habits and breeding behavior of elephants and came to know them intimately. They also hand-reared injured or orphaned elephants, rhinos and antelopes.
Sir Sheldrick died of a heart attack in 1977. In the same year, Dame Sheldrick founded the Wildlife Trust in his name. The Trust continued Sir Sheldrick’s work of rescuing and rehabilitating sick, injured or abandoned wild animals with a special emphasis on elephants. The Trust’s mission statement is:
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embraces all measures that compliment the conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife. These include anti-poaching, safe guarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans, along with other species that can ultimately enjoy a quality of life in wild terms when grown.
The Trust also works with the Kenyan government and local communities to create safe havens for wild animals across the country. Dame Sheldrick lived and worked near the Trust until her death in April of 2018. Today her children continue the work of the Trust and will do so into the future under the leadership of Angela Sheldrick. Angela is the daughter of Sir and Dame Sheldrick and currently serves as the CEO of the Trust.
With the advent of the Internet, the Sheldrick family realized that there were no longer any geographic limits to the reach of their program. Concerned individuals from all over the world now have the opportunity to sponsor a baby elephant through the Trust’s Digital Foster Program. For a minimum fostering fee of $50 USD, sponsors receive the following:
In recent years the program has been expanded to provide for adoption of orphaned giraffes and rhinos, as well as abandoned animals in other national parks across the country.
The Trust’s elephant nursery is located within the bounds of Nairobi National Park. It sits toward the western end of the park and is easily accessible by car or public transportation.A fee of $7 US or 500 Ksh is charged to all visitors over the age of 4. The orphanage is open to the public from 11AM-12PM, which is the feeding hour for the orphans. It is open every day of the year except for 25 December.
Foster parents can visit the orphanage during the public visiting hour and can also arrange a special visit at 5PM, when the animals are returned to the stockade for the evening. Visits during this foster parent-only hour must be booked with the orphanage prior to the visit.
Prior to entering the elephant viewing area, visitors have the chance to purchase shirts, books, posters and other items to commemorate their visit. There is also an opportunity for visitors to become foster parents whilst onsite. Local Masaai tribesmen are often at the park – although they are usually reluctant to be photographed, the tribesmen at the park are more open to it. Talk with them and learn more about their relationship with the elephants and the other wild animals native to East Africa.
Visitors should be aware that the elephants are kept in as close to a natural habitat as possible. This means that there is a natural dirt floor which can often become muddy or dusty, depending on the weather conditions. Make sure you’re not wearing your best pair of shoes when visiting here! It’s also advisable to avoid wearing sandals or soft-sided shoes.
It’s also advisable to arrive as early as 10AM in order to secure a good viewing spot for the elephants. Trainers bring the elephants out into the open viewing area, and the animals are separated from the public by a series of wood poles and ropes. The baby elephants aren’t shy, and they often walk along the the rope and allow visitors to pet them. If you ever get the chance to do so, you’ll note that the skin feels leathery and is covered with stiff, bristly hair. It’s quite a treat to get to pet one! Most visitors are courteous to one another and will step out of the way to allow children and people with cameras the chance to get close to the animals…everyone gets their turn.
The grounds are also occupied by small warthogs which are very cute and amusing to watch. Although warthogs should be avoided in the wild, these seem to be very tame and are not at all shy of the crowd.
Consider starting your day with a morning game drive through Nairobi National Park, followed by visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage. You won’t be disappointed – I know I sure wasn’t! I really enjoyed the chance to see these gentle giants up close. I also appreciated learning more about their habits and the areas in which they live. It’s also very comforting to know that the Wildlife Trust is working to protect these beautiful animals from poachers and other natural dangers.
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