Exploring Africa's Wildlife And Wild Places

A Place Where the Elephants are in Charge

by David Tett
May 30, 2014
3-week-old “Rukinga” feeds on milk at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi 10/4/2012 (Photo Credit: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust)

David Tett describes the elephant conservation work of Dame Daphne Sheldrick and shares a custom Kenya safari to visit elephant orphanage, Tsavo National Park, Samburu, and the Masai Mara.


You might have seen the 60 Minutes episode by correspondent Bob Simon, on the elephant orphanage in Kenya founded by the late Dame Daphne Sheldrick. He asked her what was the most extraordinary thing she has learned about elephants and her reply gives you something to think about:

"Their tremendous capacity for caring is I think perhaps the most amazing thing about them. Even at a very, very young age. Their sort of forgiveness, unselfishness — they have all the best attributes of us humans and not very many of the bad." 
Dame Daphne Sheldrick

It reminded me of my first visit to the orphanage in the Nairobi National Park over 15 years ago with Carolyn. On the drive out to the Park, I was skeptical about the place as another tourist trap, but I was very wrong. When we arrived, we were taken through an educational visit, introduced to the Keepers, led into the stables to meet many different elephants and permitted to touch their trunks and bristly rough hides. But the highlight was feeding time. You knew when grub’s up because the excited herd came round the corner, various ages and sizes moving with a mission. It was a well-orchestrated routine with Keepers at hand, but clearly the elephants were in charge. It was a sight I will never forget.

The Important Role of the Keepers

Joseph Sauni, Head Keeper of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Voi Rehabilitation Unit featured in this video

After the visit I wondered how the orphanage came about, and learned about an extraordinary African family. David Sheldrick began his career with the Kenya National Parks in 1948 and transformed an unchartered part of the countryside into Tsavo, one of Kenya’s most famous National Parks. Dame Daphne worked alongside her husband for 25 years, and perfected the milk formula required to keep orphaned elephant and rhino infants alive. To date the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and released them back into the wild herds of Tsavo. While the pioneering Orphans’ Project is central to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Trust runs a number of other key projects that support habitat conservation, anti-poaching efforts, and community outreach. It is dedicated families like these, born in Africa, to whom we like to introduce our travelers so they get the real African story.

And, when you visit the orphanage, you become part of the conservation success story. So, how can you build a visit to the elephant orphanage into an unforgettable Kenya safari? Spend a night in Nairobi in the tree-lined suburb of Karen, and visit Dame Daphne’s orphanage (we will make sure you go at the right time to see the feeding fun!). Then head out to historic Tsavo East National Park, take in game drives, and explore the park where the baby elephants get released into the wild. Fly north to Samburu National Park and stay on a private conservancy where you get to walk with Samburu “wildlife warriors.” End your safari in the Masai Mara – we have a wonderful luxury tented camp here, right on the edge of the Park, but also on a private conservancy, and where the big game viewing for elephants, lions, and leopards is outstanding.

You can visit the orphanage on Kenya's private reserves safari

Kenya's Private Reserves Safari


Topics: Conservation & Wildlife

Posted in: Conservation & Wildlife

AUTHOR BIO  |David Tett

Bushtracks' Founder & Owner is a sixth-generation Southern African, born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, later earning a Bachelor of Science degree in DNA technology from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He founded Bushtracks Expeditions in 1989 and has been traveling extensively throughout Africa for more than 45 years. Combining his interest in ecosystems and the varied ecology of Africa with photographic safaris, he develops educational programs that include traditional cultures and wildlife. He is keenly interested in how nature tourism affects rural African communities and has worked with several projects that successfully integrate communities, the environment, and wildlife viewing.