The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi, is a wonderfully insightful place. Whilst visiting I had lots of fun, however I also experienced great sadness. I will explain.
When entering the orphanage you are greeted by the many warm, welcoming faces of the staff, they are happy to help and are clearly very enthusiastic about what they do. The grounds of the orphanage seem quite large and they house the sleeping areas for the young elephants. The sleeping areas are like traditional horse stables and are made all warm and cosy with hay etc. When the elephants are very young, sometimes the staff will even sleep in there with them! How adorable!
The staff become very close with the elephants and act as their ‘human family’, this is clearly seen through the way they act towards each other. It is really lovely to see, and to watch how happy the babies are, despite the trauma they have been through. Elephants are said to be the closest to humans in terms of emotions, so it is really important that they get this love and care offered to them at the orphanage, and it is certainly evident that they do!
The milk bottles are set out in front of the tourists (tourists are invited into the orphanage for only 1 hour per day), and the elephants charge excitedly towards them. The younger elephants need to be fed by the keepers, the older ones however grab their bottles and down the milk themselves quicker than you can blink an eye! It is incredibly cute to watch!
When the elephants have finished drinking their milk they are given time to play in the area whilst the keepers inform the tourists a bit more about their situations and how the orphanage works. Watching the elephants playing is amazing; I have seen elephants several times before on my travels, but never before so young, nor so excitable and adorable!
The elephants spent their time playing with bushes, coming to see what the tourists were up to and rolling in the mud! Imagine a baby playing on the floor, how they might role over, attempt to suck their toes, or stand on their head…well this was the behaviour we watched from the baby elephants, it was extraordinary! And again, soooo adorable! If elephants could smile, they all would have been baring the biggest grins!
Watching the elephants was fabulous and I enjoyed every second of it. It was wonderful to see such a lovely cause and that elephants that probably wouldn’t have survived otherwise were thriving. On my return to Heathrow a fellow member of staff told me that she had herself adopted one of the baby elephants for £50 a year and receives regular updates and photo’s from the orphanage, I thought this was really lovely to hear!
Although it was wonderful to see the elephants so happy now, their stories were less so. The orphanage takes calls 24 hours a day from surrounding African areas, and when a baby is found vulnerable and alone the staff rush over to rescue them and bring them back to the orphanage. Sadly, many elephants are not found soon enough, and do not make it. Babies rely on the mothers, so without them are left without food, warmth and protection. They are also extremely vulnerable to predators such as lions.
So why are these babies left without their mothers you might be wondering? Well more often than not the reason is poaching.
There is a huge market for ivory, predominantly in China. Fortunately much of the Western World are now aware of poaching, and where ivory comes from, and therefore are less inclined to purchase ivory based goods. However the market in China is thriving, and so by default, so is the poaching industry in the rest of the world.
Mothers are often killed for their ivory, leaving the babies behind to fend for themselves, often resulting in their deaths. Sometimes the mother may not be killed, but many of her herd have been. When the herd is decreased it means less protection for the babies and themselves, and it also means less experienced mothers to help the new mothers with raising their babies. So as you can see, there is a detrimental knock on effect from members of the herd being sadly taken.
Some of the elephants at the orphanage are so young, the youngest on my visit was only 3 months. It was amazing to see such young baby elephants, but so sad that it was under such circumstances. As I mentioned, the orphanage runs a sponsor/adoption scheme as well welcoming donations in order to help run the orphanage. It is an amazing cause, so if you are visiting Nairobi I would certainly recommend a visit! Or you can have a look at the work they do for yourself at http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/index.asp