We waited in anticipation, cameras poised and speaking in whispers. And then we saw them; their grey heads bobbing above the grass as their keepers followed closely behind. Seconds later, they came dancing past, trunks swinging and feet dancing. The moment you first see the baby elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is magical.
The lady behind Nairobi’s most famous rhino and elephant sanctuary is Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Her husband, the late David Sheldrick was a passionate conservationist and in 1977, she set up the trust in his memory.
In their Nairobi Nursery alone, they have reared over 200 orphaned elephants. They have pushed many anti-poaching initiatives and many have been reintroduced back into the wild into the elephant populations in Tsavo, Kenya. Some of these have even gone on to have calves of their own.
There are two times of the day you can visit the Trust. In the mornings, you can go and watch the elephants play. And if you are going to foster an elephant, you can visit in the evening, and enjoy a more up-close experience – which is what we did.
As you can imagine, there are many sad stories behind the orphans here. Many are the offspring of elephants that have been poached, some were found abandoned and others were brought into the Trust’s Nairobi Nursery by conservationists after they were found injured.
The dedication that the keepers pay to the elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is amazing. Each keeper stays with an elephant 24 hours a day. They protect them from predators while they are out in the bush during the day. During the first two months of their life they must keep them warm with blankets, put ‘rainwear’ on them when it’s wet and put sunscreen on them when outside! At night, they sleep within their pens and wake up every three hours to feed their orphan.
The first few months of their lives is fragile time and so getting their feeding right is vital. Sadly after such traumatic events, some of the calves at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust don’t make it, despite the keepers’ perseverance. But as we saw when we visited, the majority of them turn out to be happy and healthy elephants that can one day return to the wild.
We walked around the pens watching each of the elephants play and eat and when I met ‘Godoma’, I decided she was the one I wanted to adopt.
Her keeper told me that Godoma was found injured by conservancy scouts from the Taita Hills. She was named after the province in which she was found, close to the Kenya coast. And I was reduced to tears as the keeper told me how she was lifted from a steep watering point battered and bruised. They had hoped that Godoma’s mother would reappear but sadly she didn’t so they decided to bring her in to the David Wildlife Sheldrick Trust. She had to be the one I’d help!
Godoma’s keeper told me that if he doesn’t wake, the calf will make sure he or she lets them know they’re hungry every three hours through the night, with a nudge of their trunk. But as hard as it may be, each keeper has to make sure that they don’t get too attached to an individual elephant. They do this by rotating the infants that they care for. This means that one day, it’s more likely to be a success when they reintroduce the elephants back into the wild.
It’s hard leaving The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust without feeling moved by the work they are doing here. The good thing to know is that the money you pay to foster one elephant will go towards the care of all the animals here, including Maxwell the rhino, the ostrich and giraffe. You are also supporting the organisations surveillance and conservation efforts in high-risk poaching areas of Africa.
We were given a pack by The DSWT containing all the information about Godoma’s story. Each month, we’ll receive an email telling us about her progress with recent photos, along with information about the Trust’s most recent rescues.
The Airbnb hosts we were staying with in Karen, came with us to see an elephant they’d fostered a year ago. They were really excited when they saw how much he’d grown. Apparently, if you blow inside the trunk of an elephant, they will always remember you. Sadly we couldn’t do this with Godoma as by the time we had taken all our pictures, she was fast asleep!
Oh, and watch this VIDEO about our visit!