Kenya. – It’s about 5pm on a beautiful afternoon in Nairobi and I’m standing with a group of visitors waiting for the baby elephants to arrive back from the park where they’ve spent the day.
There’s a rush of excitement and dust on the air as the first few come into view. This is their daily ritual, blankets tied tightly in place on the youngest by their carers. They know it’s time for home and make their way to the truck for feeding. Two bottles each, before they go to their enclosures for the night.
Immediately I’m in love.
These sweet perfect babies that find themselves here are ironically the lucky ones, as they have been rescued by the David Shedrick Wildlife Trust and at the elephant orphanage, are being given a second chance.
The babies coming in with their masai blankets on for the night.
They know exactly where to go, headed to the trailer where the handlers are waiting with their bottled milk. Running in …
Each bottle contains two litres of a mix that took decades for Daphne Sheldrick to perfect, baby formula with coconut milk. They get this in the mornings and evenings, and browse on trees in the park during the day. In the wild baby elephants drink from their mothers for two years and are dependent on them until the age of four, suckling until then.
In their pens for the night, the older ones outside, the young ones enclosed.
These men are heroes, fulfilling the role of mother to the vulnerable babies, although as I speak to one of the carers they say this too has been a question of trial, error and heartache over the last thirty years.
Initially they would assign each baby one full time person, but they soon realised that as soon as that keeper went on leave for three weeks, the baby would think it had lost another mother and mourn their absence, often dying of a broken heart. They now rotate baby ellies and those who care for them, but still there’s a bed in each pen and they are never alone.
These babies were the latest rescues, the one above only three weeks old. The mother had been poached and the baby was severely dehydrated when they found her. I learnt afterwards that she sadly never made it. The trauma too great for her broken soul.
We all have a connection with elephants, especially the calves. They are intuitive, gentle and precious icons of Africa. Yet heartbreaking to take on board that an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for it’s ivory. Of the babies in care at DSWT, 80% are casualties of poaching, the rest human-wildlife conflict or have been abandoned.
But even these lucky few that are given a second chance don’t always pull through. Confused and heartbroken, they mourn for their mothers and families. Even with the care and love given, it’s sometimes just too much for them to take …
They deserve a right to life. Anybody who buys ivory these days has blood on their hands. Families are being slaughtered, actually at least 7 tons of ivory has been seized in Kenya this year to date. It’s a battle that equates to the drug trade, organised crime, and these are the innocent victims.
‘To date the DSWT has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and has achieved its long-term conservation priority by reintegrating these orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo, with many healthy wild-born calves from former-orphaned now roaming free.
Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.
Founded in 1977 by Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E, in honour of the memory of her late husband, famous naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE, the DSWT claims a rich and deeply rooted family history in wildlife and conservation.
The DSWT has remained true to its mission statement: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embraces all measures that compliment the conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife. These include anti-poaching, safe guarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans, along with other species that can ultimately enjoy a quality of life in wild terms when grown.’
From the front lines is a short film that tells the ongoing story of the elephant poaching crisis in Kenya and the work of DSWT to protect the species. You can help by supporting the Orphans’ Project and the Anti-Poaching efforts of the DSWT. Do subscribe to their newsletter for updates on their work.
I adopted little Faraja aged three years old, who was recently sent to the next phase, introduced to a wild herd for integration. This is a vital part of their work, where the babies mix with wild herds, eventually becoming accepte. The process can take as long as 8-10 years, during which time they are closely monitored.
This is Faraja taking a closer look at my GoPro. The footage we got is adorable and is included in my video of Why I Loved Kenya. It’s an easy place to visit. The orphanage offers daily morning visits and if you actually adopt or foster a baby, their major fundraising effort, you can go in the afternoon.