After our too-short stint in South Africa, a hop-skip-and-a-jump away we landed in Nairobi, Kenya. We were greeted with exorbitant prices for basic hotels, and security checks to enter said accommodations. There was surely much to see here though, however, I will admit, we didn’t look into it much. We spent most of our several days here as necessary “internet catch-up days” before heading to our next WWOOF gig on the isolated Lake Victoria island of Mfangano.
One thing that WAS on our “Must Do” list while in this stop-over capital city was to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an activity suggested by our friend, Annick. This organization has received world-wide acclaim for its Orphans program, which rescues baby elephants and rhinos whose parents have been the victims of poaching. They raise them, rehabilitate them, and re-release them back into the wild.
Every day between 11:00-12:00 (and ONLY during this time), patrons can visit the Trust’s stockades within Nairobi National Park to learn about the orphans housed there and to observe them while they venture out for their daily mud bath.
The Trust’s website HERE gives more information on how keepers work with the babies, elephant culture and the re-integration process. It is fascinating. Elephants are HIGHLY social, emotional and intelligent beings, much like humans. Family connections are of extreme importance to them. Keepers who work with the very young orphans must be in physical contact with them 24 hours a day to mimic the behavior of a mother. Keepers sleep with the babies in the stockades and are encouraged to cuddle with them and show them tons of affection. The Trust’s website states that elephants can “read humans’ hearts” so this affection must be real, not a facade, or the babies will feel unloved. Keepers must work for the organization long term, as the elephants have already been abandoned once and need stability. The keepers do rotate their time with different babies though, because if not, too strong a bond with one human could occur, causing the baby life-threatening grief should that trainer ever need to take any time off.
The trust’s founder, conservationist Daphne Sheldrick, went through three decades of trial and error learning the ins and outs of elephant herds and their behaviors: how the babies need matriarch elephants to correctly discipline them so that they can be productive members of elephant society, and how best to introduce the orphans to wild herds so that they will be “adopted” and in that way, integrated back into the wild. She also finally perfected the extremely tricky formula that is now used as a milk supplement for these babies. And elephants really do never forget. Years later, once-orphaned, now wild elephants come back to the stockades to visit “family members” (their old keepers) or to ask for aid (such as to have a snare removed) from individuals who helped them while they were growing up. Pretty heartwarming stuff :-)
Here are some more pictures from our time at the Trust:
The swithcharoo. When one bottle was empty, it was quickly replaced. Once, when a bottle was taken away too quickly, the baby got so fussy that he pushed his keeper over! Guess even elephants have tantrums ;)
The trust is supported mainly by donations from patrons. These gifts have ensured that so far, 150 orphan baby elephants and rhinos–who would otherwise have died–have been saved. If you would like to “foster” an orphan, $50 a year allows you to choose the one who’s story speaks to you and to receive pictures, regular updates and keeper’s journals on your baby. visit their web site HERE.
After meeting the orphans we headed over to visit another organization housed within the national park, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya, also known as the “Giraffe Center”. This center focuses on conservation and wildlife education and breeding of the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. Here we got to meet two giraffes up close and even feed them a few treats!
Although we were not impressed by the “education center”, the opportunity to interact with these animals up close was pretty cool. We did think that the human interaction/feeding part felt more “zoo” like and less “conservation center” like, and worried about the affect on the animals. We were reassured though, that after they are bred in this 160 acre enclosure, at two years old giraffes are released into the wild and have good survival rates.
We also found out that Giraffe Manor, a fancy lodge functioning as a hotel, is right down the street from the Giraffe Center. If you are able to shell out the cash to stay here, these same giraffes lounge around on the lodge’s front lawn and even stick their heads inside the windows while guests are having their morning tea!