Before we went on safari to observe animals in the wild, we visited two animal orphanages in central Nairobi. The first was the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which cares for orphaned baby elephants and rhinoceros.
Our first visitor who inadvertantly walked through the parking area was a giant rhinoceros. Most of the people in our group were a bit nervous that this giantic beast was approaching our cars. Perhaps naively, I nonchalantly assumed that this massive vegetarian was just taking a short cut to some good eats nearby and wasn’t remotely interested in goring anyone with his deadly horn. In a few seconds, one of the caretakers managed to maneuver the gentle giant into the bushes and all was well again.
First, the baby elephants under one year old marched out for a public feeding. The babies were actually quite shy when greeted with a chorus of cooing and oohing, and some hung onto their caretakers with their trunks the way I probably tightened my grip on my mother at age 2 when strangers tried to say hello to me.
The most moving part of this visit was hearing about how the caretakers are constantly in the company of the babies. Baby elephants need to be fed every three hours, so the caretakers sleep with the elephants and provide the same intimate companionship, protection and nourishment that they would normally get from their mothers.
Each baby elephant had a name and a story. Most of them had fallen into water holes and were stranded, often saved by rangers. One orphan with tattered ears was being attacked by a pack of hyenas when a ranger saved her. After two years of age, the elephants are ready to be released back into the wild. No doubt, it’s a tearful parting for the caretakers who spend so much time being substitute mothers to these precious babies.
After the babies were fed, the teenager elephants (over a year old), marched in for their feeding. Far less shy and far more precocious than their younger counterparts, the older elephants wasted no time eating and playing.
A group of local schoolchildren also showed up for a visit to learn about orphaned elephants.
To learn more about orphaned elephants in Nairobi, visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust here.