The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was one of the main reasons we decided to travel to Africa. A few years ago I had been given the perfect gift of sponsoring a gorgeous little orphan elephant by the name of Ashaka. She was a beautiful elephant, kind and friendly but also had a mischievous side which I really enjoyed. I loved hearing about her growth and development as well as her escapades including her extremely strong friendship with Kamok another orphan and her stable neighbour. I was therefore devastated to find out a couple of months before our trip to visit her that she died unexpectedly. My heart cried for her as well as for all the keepers, staff, sponsors and little Kamok who were no doubt heavily affected by the loss.
In an effort to help we sponsored little Kamok and brought on board to our sponsor family Mbegu and Ndotto as well. Kamok who was Ashaka’s best friend, Mbegu who was moved into Ashaka’s old home and became Kamok’s new best friend and Ndotto because well just look at the pictures… Ndotto is just the most adorable elephant you will ever meet. In addition to visiting these gorgeous baby elephants, we were also planning to visit two other orphans, Kauro, an orphan we had given to friends as a wedding gift and Roi, an orphan who was sponsored by a friend after hearing about Ashaka and wanting to help.
So with 5 baby elephants to visit we excitedly headed off to the DWST, located on the outskirts of Nairobi. Between 11am-12pm every day for a small donation you can visit the centre, see the little ones get fed and learn about what they do. Everyone congregated around a large roped enclosure and waited with anticipation. Small neatly dressed school children lined the rope (DSWT provides free entry for school children in an effort to promote elephant conservation). There was the occasional trumpeting noise heard in the distance that only got everyone more excited. Then they came... The first group was the littlest ones. Some powered into the enclosure, trunks waving in the air as if it was the greatest day of their life. Others were less confident at first, some still nursing injuries from when they were rescued. The keepers all however helped them in and made them feel safe. As they entered the enclosure, they quickly gravitated towards the keepers holding bottles of milks. While they guzzled down the milk, a keeper goes through what is done at the centre, how everything works and answers most of the questions you could think of before you even thought of them. He then went through each elephant in the enclosure and talked a bit about them their past, their personality and their habits. After about 20 minutes, these little ones headed back into the forest and the next group came in. These elephants were still very small, but slightly older than the previous group. This group contained Mgebu, Roi, Kamok and Ndotto in it. Mbegu and Roi were clearly having the time of their lives running straight for the big mud puddle in the corner and not stopping till they were completely camouflaged in mud! Such a beautiful thing to watch and a moment I will treasure forever.
Kamok was fixated that day on getting as much milk into her in the least time possible. Ndotto was a crowd pleaser, first walking the fence letting everyone pet him, before falling over the bucket of water, stealing food from the other elephant’s mouths and finally chasing the two twin ostrich orphans, named Pea & Pod around the enclosure.
Kauro, came out in the next group and I had the wonderful opportunity to pet him. He was such a gentle soul. However when it came time to leave the enclosure, his preferred method was not to follow the rest through the exit, but to be cheeky and take a shortcut through the rope fence before joining the others as they headed into the jungle. Hahaha
Now the extra special thing about being a sponsor to these orphans is you have the opportunity to come back after hours around 4pm to see them again and watch them as they come out of the forest and head to their enclosures to sleep. There is nothing more amazing than being able to interact with baby elephants. This made my day and to make it even better we also got to meet the stunningly handsome Maxwell the rhino. Maxwell will be a life long resident of the DSWT for unfortunately he is blind and therefore will never be able to safely live in the wild. He was more than happy to say hello to all of us.
We spent so long with them speaking to the keepers, seeing where they slept and watching them go to sleep. We would have stayed the night had the staff not told us we had to leave and subtly kicked us out.
It was so wonderful to see how well the elephants are looked after and how happy they are considering the traumatic start they have had to their lives. They all continue to get stronger every day and will hopefully one day be released back into the wild. Until then I thank with all my heart the rangers, keepers, volunteers, DSWT staff, sponsors and everyone else that has helped raise the little orphan elephants and kept them safe.
How this Centre began.
In 1948, David Sheldrick, aged 28 became the warden of Tsavo, Kenya's largest National park. He had the difficult job of looking after the wildlife who were under constant threat of armed poachers. David and his wife Daphne studied elephants extensively, collecting crucial information on their lifestyle, food preferences and migration. Additionally they rescued and hand-reared vulnerable elephants, rhinos, antelopes and other animals. Following his untimely death from a heart attack aged 57, Dame Daphne Sheldrick established this centre. If you would like to know more or to sponsor an elephant, please visit http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
Between the two visits to the DSWT, we visited a giraffe sanctuary, which was home to several beautiful Rothschild giraffes. Rothschild giraffes are one of the most endangered giraffe subspecies with only a few hundred members left in the wild. As well as loss of habitation, another main threat to these giraffes is hybridisation. This centre runs a breeding programme to try replenish this population. They have several distinguishable features including no markings below their knees giving them the impression of wearing white stockings. At this centre you get the opportunity to feed the giraffes as well as get a kiss from one!!!