Saving Africa’s Animal Orphans: the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Nairobi National Park enjoys a unique backdrop made up of the bustling city’s skyscrapers. It is one of the only national parks in the world adjoining a capital city and the distinctive honors don’t end there. Nestled on the edge of the park is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) – one of the leading organisations pioneering wildlife and habitat conservation in East Africa.

Founded in 1977, Dame Daphne Sheldrick opened the DSWT in honour of her late husband David Sheldrick - a naturalist, life-long nature lover, and the founding warden of Kenya’s original wildlife sanctuary Tsavo National Park.

Kenya’s wildlife is increasingly being pushing to the brink of extinction and the DSWT is dedicated to working on a number of projects centered on conserving and protecting Kenya’s wildlife and habitats. In a partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, they work to stop poaching, preserve endangered habitats and rescue and treat injured animals so that they can be returned to the wild.

At the center of these initiative is the Orphans Project.

Every year, baby elephant and rhino are left orphaned due to poaching, loss of habitat and human-wildlife conflict. This is where the DSWT Orphan’s Project steps in and a long, complex process of rehabilitation begins.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

At the DSWT Nairobi Nursery in the Nairobi National Park, orphaned elephant and rhino, rescued after being found alone with no hope of survival, are hand reared. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has spent years perfecting a milk formula that replicates the milk of an adult female elephant or rhino. This gives the animal orphans a fighting chance of making it back into their natural homes in Kenya’s wild. While at the Nairobi Nursery, the baby orphans are cared for, nursed and raised by a team of dedicated Keepers. The team is made up of locals who understand the demands of the job. While the animals are being cared for, the Keepers become adoptive families and surrogate mothers; bottle feeding the babies formula and even sleeping near the infants during the night as they need constant contact. Specifically with the elephants, the Keepers then become a human version of the baby elephants lost family.

According to the DSWT they form close family bonds; “Elephants are tactile and highly social animals, so the human "family" is always encouraged to be in physical contact with the babies as much as possible, talking to them and demonstrating genuine heartfelt affection, as would their elephant family.”

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

During a typical day at the Nairobi Nursery, the orphans are bottle fed before exploring different areas of the Nairobi National Park accompanied by the Keepers.

The orphans remain at the nursery until they are ready to move into the reintegration stage of rehabilitation. The DSWT has three reintegration units – Voi, Ithumba in the Tsavo East National Park and Umani Springs in the Kibwezi Forest. Once the orphaned animals make it to this stage, they will gradually be reintroduced to wild herds and eventually released back into the wild fully rehabilitated where anti-poaching teams continue to ensure their safety. 

Currently, the DSWT has more than 100 elephant living in the wild with 25 known babies being born to rehabilitated elephants.

Alongside the Orphans Project the DSWT oversees anti-poaching units, mobile veterinary teams, emergency sky veterinary assistance teams, aerial surveillance projects, habitat conservation initiatives and community outreach.

The DSWT social media channels are buzzing with daily activity where readers and viewers get a real-time glimpse into the work that the trust does.

There are a number of ways to contribute including donating and fundraising as well as fostering the orphans. This involves contributing annually and receiving updates and news on your chosen foster baby – a truly memorable way to help the trust continue to run and make a difference in these orphaned animals' lives.

Visitors are welcome to at the Nairobi Nursery daily from 11am-12am to watch first hand as the orphans feed, play and explore. Foster parents are allowed to visit by appointment at 5pm to watch the orphans return to the nursery for bedtime.

The DSWT was born out of a love for wildlife, conservation and Kenya. Today it continues to thrive on these principals.

For more information visit David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website.

Photos in post credited to and courtesy of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

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