Why you should care
Because this is wildlife rehab at its best. And cutest.
What’s more adorable than 15 baby elephants rolling around in the mud? Fifteen baby elephants rolling around in the mud right in front of you.
That’s what you’ll find at Kenya’s elephant orphanage, part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Started in 1977, the trust is one of Kenya’s oldest wildlife conservation institutions and the “only organization or NGO that raises orphaned elephants in Africa to reintroduce [them] to the life they deserve,” says Dame Daphne Sheldrick, widow of David Sheldrick and CEO of the trust. Together, the Sheldricks pioneered the difficult process of raising vulnerable baby elephants and critically endangered black rhinos. Top that off with a hefty dose of up-close-and-personal interactions and you get some wildlife magic.
The elephant orphanage’s mission is simple: Rescue baby elephants who can’t make it on their own in the wild, hand-raise them to be capable young adults and release them back into wild herds. The babies are bottle-fed formula and wrapped in blankets — they’re fragile at such a young age. Their caretakers say the babies mourn their families when they first arrive at the orphanage. According to DSWT’s 2015 newsletter, one new arrival named Dupotto “suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, rocking and crying out in her stockade at night.” Eventually, the babies learn all the skills necessary for survival as an adult, like foraging for food. Often, after the elephants are reintroduced to the wild, they return to the rehabilitation unit for visits, says Kirsty Smith, DSWT’s project administrator. Like Wendi, who brought her wild-born calf Wiva “to share her [baby] with the human family who raised her.” Last year, the trust rescued around 28 new orphans and “graduated” 16 orphans back into the wild. All in all, they’ve released more than 120 elephants.
Rescued ostrich chicks Pea and Pod and a young giraffe, Kiko, like to hang out with the baby elephants when they venture into the bush, which makes for an unusual baby wildlife entourage.
The orphanage has raised hundreds of other critters too, including 12 black rhinos, zebra, antelope and even a porcupine. Today, its residents include a blind rhino named Maxwell and a serval cat named Puk. Sometimes the animals bond with one another. Rescued ostrich chicks Pea and Pod and a young giraffe, Kiko, like to hang out with the baby elephants when they venture into the bush, which makes for an unusual baby wildlife entourage.
DSWT funds its costs in part with donations from tourists, who can “adopt” an elephant for $50 a year. Kind of like that old-school adopt-a-kid-from-afar thing, but instead of getting letters, the adopter receives photos of and status reports on their elephant. And you don’t have to go on safari to see these babies. The elephant nursery is in Nairobi, Kenya, and worth visiting even if you’re only in Nairobi for a day en route to more adventurous wildlife experiences. Most tourists make the affair a two-for-one thing and loop in a stop at the giraffe manor nearby, where one can feed giraffes at eye level and watch warthogs run around.
But if you can’t make your way to Nairobi, follow the elephants on Instagram.