Caring for Orphaned Elephants

23SEP16 Sheldrick350pxThis past weekend I enjoyed the fulfillment of a dream. In my past visits to Kenya I had never visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This is an elephant orphanage begun by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977 in memory of her husband David who even today stands out as one of Africa’s most famous and proficient pioneer and natural park wardens of all time.

I knew about it and while I was setting this tour up about a year ago I spent some time looking into the organization. I was so taken by the rescue program and the care given to juvenile and infant orphaned elephants that I made a point to take on the minimum fostering commitment of a 2 year-old orphan named Dupoto.

This ties up only $50.00 USD a year and has given me thousands in satisfaction to do just a little toward the conservation of these majestic animals.

The visit to the foundation does not mean you can walk amongst the enclosures or pet the elephants. The principal aim of the orphanage is to nurture each one and to re-integrate them back into the wild.

Aside from the actual rescue which can be anything from pulling a juvenile out of a well to rescuing an infant after it’s mother has been killed by poachers – in order to survive, these young elephants need intense supervision and care provided by dedicated handlers.

Elephants are a matriarchal society whereby all the cows in a group act as babysitters and contribute to the care of a member’s offspring so elephants are accustomed to a supportive network of caregivers.

At any given time there are about 26 resident orphans ranging in age from a few months to as much as 5 – 7 years.

When an new elephant comes in after being rescued, one of the more established juveniles is included to welcome the new arrival to try to lessen the shock and provide some trauma relief. Each orphan is assigned 2 handlers who take turns to literally sleep with the new arrival to stabilize it until it can become part of the population. The handlers are rotated between the population because if an elephant becomes attached to only one handler and that handler were taken away, for whatever reason, the infant will refuse to eat and will die.

The visit consists of watching the orphans at feeding time. They come down a slope from their enclosures to a roped off area where people can watch as they are fed and play. They each drink up to 24 litres of milk (which is imported from the UK) a day.

After all have been given the midday feeding they are allowed to play in a mud hole while one of the handlers talks about the organization. They also make it very clear that along with poaching it is acknowledged that human population has, and continues to, encroach on the elephant’s habitat and their travel corridors.

Elephants do not migrate but they do move to fresh feeding areas after overuse or a drought and do return to their original areas when conditions have been allowed to support them again.

When the orphans are stabilized they are integrated amongst the others and make up their own herd and spend each day in a grassland savannah environment amongst each other which is one of the first parts of their rehabilitation. Elephants are nursed up to 2 and half years which means they will stay at the orphanage until they can feed on vegetation to be considered for the next step which is to be taken to another station in a still relatively protected environment and once their confidence is evident they are turned out to the wild to do what elephants are supposed to do.

The continuation of the Trust which also rescues orphaned rhinos depends solely on contributions through educational visits and through fostering programs. To learn more about THE DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST visit

Read more about our travels in Africa:  “What is the Mysterious Allure of Africa” and What’s it like? The Ultimate Wildlife Experience: On Safari in East Africa

Come along with us on tour:  2018 Classic East Africa Safari tour.

Debbie Lloyd
Today’s Woman Traveller

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