If you love wildlife, especially elephants, and you have time to spare in Nairobi, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a place you definitely have to check out.
The DSWT is a world famous elephant orphanage tucked on the edges of Nairobi National Park. It is a foster home for orphaned, abandoned and rescued baby elephants, before they are let back into the wild.
Located on Magadi Road opposite MultiMedia University, it is easily accessible by public transport although it is a 15 minute uphill walk from the main gate to the actual site. A private car is therefore ideal if you frown upon the idea of walking.
The place is open to the public for just one hour every day, 11am to 12 noon, and so you have to be there on time; something that I just can’t. I’m so bad at keeping time that I will probably be late for my own wedding. Or something more important.
Tabasamu and I were supposed to pick the Spanish couple in town at 9:30am but we were not there until well past 10, partly due to a crazy traffic jam in Eastlands. We decided to use public transport to the elephant orphanage but it was already 11 by the time the matatu left Nairobi Railway Station bus terminus. We considered aborting the trip altogether but agreed to just go and check it out.
We arrived at the gate at 11:30 and almost ran all the way up to at least be there before noon. We paid the Ksh 500 fee (roughly 5 dollars) per person despite the fact that we had less than 20 minutes left. I was really embarrassed being the proverbial ‘local’ who couldn’t get his guests to their destination on time and I’m pretty sure they were cursing me inwardly.
“It doesn’t matter, as long as we see something. There is no difference if you see it for 1 hour or for 10 minutes, it’s the same”, they said and that gave me some relief. There were a lot of people already there, most of them tourists and school kids, standing around a muddy arena watching the elephants.
“This elephant was rescued from Tsavo after its mother was killed by poachers. It was very young and could not survive on its own in the park”, the announcer was saying as we walked in trying to find a vantage location to take photos. There were several calves in the arena being fed milk from big bottles. There were some warthogs and a giraffe a few metres away.
That group of calves was whisked away and another one of around 12 members was introduced from the bushes. They were introduced by their names and where they had been found. They were fed on the specially formulated milk and then allowed to take a bath in the muddy puddle and soil.
This is their home, these calves. They look big but most of them are just several months or a few years old. They sleep in wooden sheds at the nursery, complete with lights, rooms and blankets. Some need medication and extra care. The young jumbos depend on well-wishers for food, milk and protection.
David Sheldrick was a game warden at Tsavo East for over 20 years and this Trust was founded by his wife Dr Daphne Sheldrick. She says, “When a tiny new born elephant is orphaned, it is often because its mother and family have been killed to serve the brutal ivory trade. For an elephant, family is important; a calf’s very existence depends upon its mother’s milk for the first two years of life…. Please help us help an orphaned elephant by fostering one of the orphans directly through our website as a gift for life.”
Let’s save our elephants.