Visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Kenya
January 1, 1970
by Michelle Jayne Simon
Did you know baby elephants don’t know what to do with their trunks?
In their first days of existence, baby elephants don’t know what to do with their trunks. It takes them up to 8 months to use them for eating and drinking. Before then, they simply swing them back and forth, sometimes step on them and even suck on them like a human baby would with their thumb. Needless to say, one cannot help but find similarities between them and us, especially when you come face to face with them at the David Sheldrick Wildlife trust.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT)
Since its inception in 1977, the DSWT has grown into one of the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world. To date, the DSWT has hand-raised over 150 infant elephants at their orphanage located here in Nairobi, on the outskirts of the Nairobi National park, and have successfully reintegrated them back into the wild herds of Tsavo.
The Morning Visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The first thing you’ll notice on your first-morning visit to the DSWT is the excess amount of red soil, littered with little puddles of water, all encased within the confines of an enclosure, which is barred off with some rope, preventing visitors from getting too close to the baby elephants. Next, you’ll notice the imprints of baby elephant footprints as well as the imprints made by their backs and stomachs on the puddles’ shores. As you take it all in with your eyes, an anxious silence will befall yourself and the group of visitors, who have also come to see these intriguing creatures. Once the silence is securely established one of the elephant keepers will make his way to the center of the enclosure, carrying with him a microphone. He begins his introduction, by welcoming all of the visitors and goes on to explain all the work and efforts that the DSWT does in order to ensure that the orphaned-elephants have a better life, following their rescues.
Once the scripted introduction is over, the keeper switches off his microphone and the anxious silence from before resettles itself within the group. Then, all at once the sound of bushes rustling and the tremors from feet stomping the ground can be heard from with the surrounding forest. After what feels like ages, one of the youngest baby elephants emerges from the forest and makes his way towards the enclosure, followed by his other age mates. But before they can reach the enclosure, they all must cross over a small stream, on a single mound of dirt, creating a line between both ends of the stream. They all cross it without so much as a falter and charge towards the 3-4 keepers who have made their way into the enclosure without being noticed by the group whose attention had been solely focused on the baby elephants.
With their attention turned towards the keepers, the group begins to notice the huge baby bottles filled with milk, held by the formers. As realization dawns on the group, the baby elephants ambush the keepers trying to get a hold of the bottles’ nipples. Each keeper is equipped with two bottles, held in each hand, simultaneously feeding two baby elephants. Once the babies are fully fed, the process is repeated on another group of baby elephants who are slightly older and bigger than the others and therefore have bigger appetites.
As your state of mesmerization slowly dissipates, you’ve had your fill of taking photographs and the baby elephants have had their fill of milk, you begin to notice that the keeper who made the initial introduction, has once again taken to his microphone and is now listing the names of each of the elephants and how they came to be rescued.
Some of the more confident elephants will make their way towards some of the people in the group whilst others will simply play with one and other whilst peering curiously at the strange creatures, watching them. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be able to touch one of the confident ones as they make they way throughout the enclosure. If you do get to touch them, you’ll notice that their skin is not as smooth as it appears to be, but rather it is rough and hairy, with patches of dried mud coating it.
All too soon, the moment is over and it is time for the elephants to go back into the forest to play with each other as well as their designated keepers; since each elephant is paired with a single keeper who becomes responsible for their overall care.
Once all the elephants have left the enclosure and are now hidden behind the trees and bushes of the forest, the initial keeper, concludes the visit by thanking everyone for coming and informs the group that they are free to purchase souvenirs from the shop located past the entrance, and that they can also place a donation, foster an elephant, or foster an elephant as a gift to someone, at the main desk; thus bringing an end to the morning visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
The Afternoon Visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The afternoon visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an exclusive one, which is only limited to DSWT foster parents who make an appointment. During this visit, ‘foster parents’ are allowed to see the elephants they have fostered up close.
The visit begins just like all visits, with an introduction from the same keeper who made the morning introduction and once again he delivers his usual speech, except this time it takes place outside the baby elephants’ sleeping quarters. As his speech comes to an end, the baby elephants all come running out of the forest, in a single-file towards their designated sleeping quarters. Entering each of their rooms without hesitations nor mistakes.
Once they are within their rooms, their designated keepers provide them with their milk, which they drink to their hearts’ content. Once the feeding is over, some will choose to sleep (usually the younger baby elephants) whereas others will choose to snack on some hay or on some of the plants outside their rooms.
Their sleeping quarters are made of wood, with a single door above which, there is a plaque with their name, date of birth and where they were found, inscribed on it. ‘Foster parents’ can, therefore, locate their elephants by reading their plaques.
The afternoon visit is a great way for people to, not only interact with these wonderful creatures, but it is also a way in which we can aid in their upkeep and ensure their survival, by donating to the Trust and fostering one of the orphaned elephants.
If you would like to play a part in the life of one of these amazing baby elephants. by donating to the organization, fostering one of them, or even if you just want to see a baby elephant, you can either head on over to their website, visit their social media pages or take a trip to Kenya and visit them, here in Nairobi.