I had the amazing opportunity to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust during my trip to Kenya. I only had one free day in the area and I had very little knowledge of the organization at the time of booking. Leading up to my visit, I did quite a bit of research and learned a lot about the DSWT. I became really excited for my visit and it turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an organization everyone should be familiar with. For that reason, I would like to share what I learned through my own research and personal experience:
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a world renown elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. Daphne Sheldrick founded it in 1977 and named it after her late husband. Her daughter, Angela Sheldrick, who has spent her whole life around these incredible animals, currently runs it. The DSWT has rehabilitated over 150 elephants over the years and is leading Kenya’s fight to save the species.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is located in Nairobi, Kenya and the elephant nursery is located within Nairobi National Park. If you happen to be staying at Giraffe Manor, then it is just a short drive away. Click here to learn more about arranging a stay at the Manor. The night before, I chose to stay at a nearby hotel. It was about a 10 minute drive to the DSWT and I had the front desk arrange a taxi for me.
What They Do
Elephants and rhinos have been in a long and constant battle against poachers and habitat loss. The demand for ivory, deforestation caused by humans, and drought have all been contributing factors to the loss of life. Kenya is seeing a small increase in elephant populations for the first time in years and this can largely be attributed to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues and rehabilitates both elephants and rhinos. It is known in particular for its Orphan’s Project. A calf is orphaned when its mother is killed (most likely due to one of the reasons mentioned above) and is left to die. The calves are milk dependent for the first two years of life, so it is physically impossible for a baby elephant to survive on its own. Luckily, Daphne Sheldrick developed the perfect baby elephant formula and the DSWT has mastered their care over the years.
When the orphans first arrive at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Foundation, they are fragile, most likely dehydrated and extremely traumatized by recent events. Elephants are highly intelligent animals and have a great memory. The orphans will actually grieve the loss of their families as they enter into the nursery stage. The keepers watch the orphans around the clock and will even sleep beside them throughout the night. The keepers are kept on rotation so the calves won’t get too attached. The orphans will need to be fed every three hours and the dedicated keepers eventually become their replacement family.
A large amount of work goes into caring for the elephants at this stage. They are very social animals and a “family” is very important to them. Affection from the keepers is crucial to their survival. In many ways they are a lot like human children. They need blankets when it’s cold and sunscreen when exposed for the first couple of months. They will also need toys, walks, and lots of stimulation.
The orphans are weaned off formula at ages three and four and are slowly introduced to a diet of plants. When they are strong enough, they are assigned to the DSWT’s rehabilitation units within the parks. The majority will go to Tsavo National Park. Tsavo National Park has over 8000 square acres and is home to Kenya’s largest elephant population. This is the beginning or their reintroduction into the wild.
Every morning the orphans are accompanied into the park by their keepers. They are first introduced to the orphans that previously graduated from the nursery and will eventually meet the wild herds. The time it takes for an orphan to join the wild herd is dependent on a lot of factors and each elephant is different. During this phase, they return to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust each evening with the keepers until they are no longer vulnerable to predators.
How to Visit DSWT
There are two ways to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It is open to the public for an hour everyday from 11 am- 12 pm, with the exception of Christmas. The cost is $7 USD (cash only).
You can also choose to participate in the DSWF’s fostering program. By participating in the fostering program you are able to visit/return at 5 pm for a somewhat more intimate experience. Reservations must be made in advance and the cost is $50 USD. You can foster online before your visit or bring cash to the office when your arrive.
This program makes a lot of the provided care possible. Money raised goes toward the general care of all the elephants, but the DSWT encourages everyone to choose an orphan to foster. You will receive updates in regard to your orphan throughout the year.
I made a reservation for my 5 pm visit a couple months in advance, paid the donation online and chose to foster a small, very young, female elephant named Kiasa.
What to Expect
If you visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust during the public hour, then you will get to see the elephants come in from the park for their midday feeding and mud bath. I can’t speak from experience (I did the 5 pm visit), but I heard from other visitors it can become crowded. On the plus side though, they are probably more active during this time of day and did I mention mud bath?
Upon arrival to the DSWT at 5 pm, I was led through the grounds, with about 10 other people, to the park entrance. We watched the orphans return from their day in the park. This is probably one of the most adorable things I have ever seen. They ran in one after the other in parade-like form. It was obviously a long day for some of the younger ones. One almost fell asleep on his walk in and had to be nudged along by a fellow elephant.
Once all the orphans were secure in the nursery, they were fed and we were free to walk around. Guests may touch the elephants through their enclosures if they come close enough. Interactions with the animals are never promised or forced. I found that many of the older ones were busy eating and for the younger ones it was nap time. One of the orphans did come over to me and it just happened to be my foster, Kiasa! She was really sweet and nuzzled my hand with her trunk. It was a really amazing experience. Even if you don’t get the opportunity to touch, being able to just observe them from such a short distance is reason enough to visit the DSWT. They are some really magnificent creatures.
Want To Know More?
I really do not have enough good things to say about this extraordinary organization. The incredibly dedicated staff does so much these animals. I encourage you to learn more about and donate to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Their website hosts a wealth of information as well as individual stories about each orphan.
There is also a wonderful documentary about the DSWT titled, “Gardeners of Eden”. I think everyone could benefit from watching this film (warning: it may result in tears). It includes footage of their anti-poaching and veterinary units in action, which are an equally incredibly part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. I have so much respect for this group of people who dedicate their lives to protecting these animals. I hope you watch and enjoy!