A post about my favorite animal on World Elephant Day. Click any image to enlarge.
A visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is just as adorable as it sounds. For less than $10 per person visitors can spend an hour (11am-noon daily) watching these precious baby pachyderms parade around, play with soccer balls, wrestle one another and suckle at enormous bottles. The smallest babies are protected with umbrellas and all of the elephants are paired with a specific handler who loves and cares for them. Each elephant is introduced and the story of how they came to be at the facility is shared with the crowd.
All of the residents of the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage have been orphaned in the wild, in most cases by poachers. Elephants are family animals and witnessing the killing of their mothers is traumatic and devastating. The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage rescues these vulnerable babies and brings them to the center outside of Nairobi. Here the babies are rehabilitated and cared for until they are 2-3 years old after which they are transported to another facility near Tsavo National Park and are slowly reentered back into the wild.
There are so many things about this experience that I love and I make it a point to revisit the orphanage each time I’m in Kenya. The dedication of the handlers is truly inspiring and the way in which each elephant bonds with his or her particular caregiver speaks volumes to the amazingness of the species. I love this video recording of an interview National Geographic’s Boyd Matson did with Edwin, the head handler, 2 years ago.
As the video discusses, it is possible to become a “foster parent” to one of the elephants in residence for as little as $50/year. In addition to receiving email updates about your elephant foster parents are also invited to spend more time with their adopted elephant before bedtime in the evening.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has other ways in which visitors and elephant lovers around the world can get involved. During my first trip to Kenya I volunteered with a school in a slum area in Nairobi and learned about a program where underprivileged school children can visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage as well as other wildlife sanctuaries. I was so honored to chaperon a group of about 40 of the students from my school on the visit. One of my favorite memories from the 6 months that I volunteered was captured in the photograph below that I took of Shannon who, like the rest of the students, had never actually seen an elephant. I snapped this the moment the elephants came out and the joy on her face warms my heart, even 7 years later:
To donate to field trips for other Nairobi-area children to be able to see one of the animals that people from far and wide journey to their country to see follow this link.
And to end, a baby elephant playing in the water to warm your heart: